In a new book, British psychologist, journalist, best-selling author and broadcaster Oliver James has identified three types of dysfunctional personalities commonly found in white-collar work environments: the psychopath, the Machiavellian and the narcissist. These personality types, he writes, often seem to possess an innate knack for climbing the corporate ladder, and many organizations seem to actually reward their ruthless behavior.
Here’s the even scarier part. In Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks, James introduces a fourth dysfunctional type or “triadic person” that combines the traits of these three personality types to form some type of self-involved, psychopathic, scheming super-beast ready to run roughshod over the workplace.
James describes how these “triadics” have a “dangerous, yet effective mix of a lack of empathy, self-centeredness, deviousness and self-regard” that can propel them to the top of organizations. He offers up fictitious examples such as Sopranos skipper Tony Soprano and Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider, antagonist and symbol of unfettered greed in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. He also provides some real-life, albeit anonymous illustrations of calculating, cunning or just plain cruel behavior displayed by those in leadership positions. For instance, he writes of an advertising and film executive who once introduced a female colleague by saying, “The last time I saw Suzy she was stark naked,” and referred to a respected academic as having “little capacity for original thought,” but “a great talent for acquiring and taking credit for others’ ideas.”
James also recalls partners from what he describes as an “elite” law firm, who possessed social skills “akin to someone with Asperger’s syndrome, so unaware were they of the thoughts and feelings of others.”
Or, consider the investment banker who got his position by fooling an interview panel into believing he was an expert on a product he knew nothing about, and further duped his new boss into thinking he came from an exceedingly wealthy background.
Finally, and not surprisingly, James predicts this new breed of superslime in our midst will cause colossal headaches for their employees, and offers a word of caution for the companies employing them.
“This dark triad of characteristics is very likely to be present in that person in your office who causes you so much trouble … ” he writes.
The likelihood of your daily working life being sacrificed by a person who is some mixture of psychopathic, Machiavellian and narcissistic is high. If you do not develop the skills to deal with them, they will eat you for breakfast.”