The dark triad in a different light

“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” —Richard Evans)

In Greek mythology, Narcissus saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it. He stared at his reflection until he died.

Narcissists are persons who  are “characterized by an excessive love for themselves, have a sense of entitlement, are attention-seeking and display exploitative behavior and feeling of superiority... tend to view others as inferior beings and believe that they are uniquely special and thus entitled to attention and praise... ”

Often, narcissists are poor listeners. They only listen for the kind of information they seek. They feel superior. They don’t easily learn from others. In the guise of teaching, they indoctrinate. They shape subordinates into pale reflections of themselves. They often dominate discourse and discussions in meetings. In the pretext of teamwork, narcissists insist that the group agree with them.

However, narcissists are often the ones who see the big picture. They are not keen on analysis. Rather than understanding the future, they seek to create it. Because they crave to be the center of attention, they are skillful communicators. As a result, they are able to present a compelling vision of the future that attracts a strong following.

In The Productive Narcissist, American psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby argues that narcissism is a positive trait primarily for two reasons: narcissists are “visionaries who foresee compelling concepts and strategies for the company, and they are able to articulate a vision well and therefore build strong followership.”

Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat and politician. Without his meaning to, he gained recognition for his book The Prince. 

Machiavellianism is used to “define manipulative and cunning personalities who use any means necessary to achieve one’s aims... they are politically oriented, seek to have control over followers, use impression management tactics and are deceptive for self-benefit... tend to be cold, callous, insincere, and manipulative.”

In fiction and in reality, Machiavellian characters exhibit duplicity in their thoughts, speech and actions. Often masquerading themselves as noble, they lie and manipulate others. Self-interest is the only raison d’ etre, with the end justifying the means. Without burden of morality, everything is all part of a master plan to gain or maintain power and influence.

Wary of sycophants, Machiavellians ironically dislike being flattered. Preferring to be feared than loved, they set clear objectives that have to be strictly met. Quick and decisive, they waste no time on excess study and analysis. Having cultivated friends in ‘high places,’ they often have first access to information.

Psychopath is a term that is usually associated with negative connotations. It includes “a range of personality traits such as grandiosity, egocentricity, deceptiveness, lack of empathy and remorse, impulsivity, irresponsibility, and a tendency to violate social norms... greatly impulsive, have low remorse and tend to be thrill seekers... tend to engage in anti-social behaviors.”

Clinically, psychopaths exhibit characteristics of boldness, dis-inhibition, and meanness. They have high tolerance for stress, unfamiliarity and danger. They are often high in self-confidence and social assertiveness. However, they lack planning and foresight, and could not control their urges. They demand immediate gratification, and have poor behavioral restraints. Moreover, they lack empathy and close attachment with others. 

In The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success, Oxford researcher Kevin Dutton argues that psychopaths are “poised to perform well under pressure... just the sort of people we can count on in a crisis.”

With fearlessness, a psychopath is not paralyzed when others are troubled or fearful. He is assertive and seldom procrastinates. Because of his lack of empathy, he is able to analyze situations objectively. With no burden of human sentimentality, a psychopath does not take things personally, and decides based purely on available data and cold facts.

A narcissist may crave attention. He may use charisma to seek prestige and status. But he is a visionary. A Machiavellian may use flattery to influence others. He may employ deception and subterfuge to get desired results. But he is skilled in negotiation and is good in forming alliances. A psychopath may be impulsive. He may often tend to antagonize. But he often tests the limits and is bold in taking risks.

In psychology and organizational behavior, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy are collectively known as the Dark Triad. They have long been maligned as malevolent and harmful. 

It’s time to look at them in a different light.

Real Carpio So lectures on strategy and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at Archives can be accessed at The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

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