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August 21, 2015

Do I Really Know You?

Keith Jackson


As a crime reporter for various regional newspapers, I was exposed to the hidden – and sometimes not so hidden – underbelly of life in seemingly respectable communities.

Every neighborhood endures the annoyance and frustrations of low-level wrongdoing: vandalism, graffiti, theft, and other anti-social behaviors. But, every so often, a town would be shocked or scandalized by something totally unexpected or far more serious.

To build up the whole story of whatever tragedy or drama had occurred, I'd knock on the doors of houses close to the crime scene, and on those of neighbors of the suspect or perpetrator.

And the most common response, when I asked about their now-notorious neighbor was always a variation of, "I just can’t believe it! He was such a quiet man, always kept himself to himself and was never any trouble. He always seemed so friendly. It's such a shock to everyone to think he could do such a thing!"

I can't remember a single instance of anyone saying, "I always knew something like this would happen! I had her down as a "wrong 'un" from the moment I set eyes on her. Everyone round here knew she was up to no good and capable of doing something like that. She should have been locked up years ago... "

It prompts the question, how well do we really know the people around us?

You can live next door to someone for ages and never really get to know him properly. Similarly, you can share an office or work closely with colleagues for a long time – but how much do you know about their true characters? And do they know the "real" you? Very few people are completely open books. And, at work, most of us try to present ourselves in a positive light to our managers, our teams and our colleagues.

If we are looking for career progression, or trying for a promotion or pay raise, most of us will aim to achieve that through hard work and getting good results.

But there are people who are ruthless in their pursuit of advancement. They may appear to be completely genuine and real team players, but they have their own agenda and don't lose any sleep about stepping on other people to reach their objectives.

Often, it's relatively easy to identify and deal with such people. But there are some behaviors and character traits that are harder to spot. And if someone possesses a combination of these traits, the consequences for team morale and productivity can be dire.

Psychologists have identified three of these particular traits, and have called them "the Dark Triad." They are narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Narcissists tend to be selfish, boastful and arrogant; Machiavellian people can be manipulative, lack empathy, and be duplicitous; and psychopathy is associated with volatility anti-social behavior, and a lack of remorse.

Someone with the Dark Triad traits could be extremely disruptive to the welfare and harmony of your team. Our article, Understanding the Dark Triad, will help you identify some of the warning signs and behaviors of people with the three traits, and suggests strategies for dealing with them.

Question: Have you ever dealt with anyone exhibiting Dark Triad traits? Share your experiences below.

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2 comments on “Do I Really Know You?”

  1. The main thing in dealing with these sorts of people - from personal experience - is that no one believes you. They think that you are crazy or that this is something you read about yesterday and now you have a bee in your bonnet and have labelled someone just to be able to explain why you don't like their behaviours. It just seems so far-fetched to most people. But this is an emergent area of psychology - that's why it's not in mainstream knowledge. I'm waiting for the zeitgeist to catch up with my life!

    1. Thanks Ally for sharing your thoughts. I can well relate to when someone shares their experiences with an individual and others do not see that. I have so often heard things like 'well, that is not my experience with them.'

      People can, and do, act differently around different individuals. I see this as a result of what type of 'power' relationship they have with the other person and what they want to gain.

      Anyone else, care to share your experiences?

      Mind Tools Team

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