Assessing the Dark Side of Personality

An interview with an excellent candidate can sometimes lead us to believe that we have found the ideal person for a position. And yet, we all know an employee who did damage to an organization and who behaved in a counter-productive manner in spite of exceptional talents. What can make such a talented individual behave this way? Is it possible to prevent such situations and limit the damage? A personality test reveals a candidate’s strengths and talents, as well as things to keep an eye on. The Hogan Development Survey makes it possible to explore this “dark side” of someone’s personality, among other things, and therefore to recruit individuals who are less likely to adopt negative behaviour in the work place. Knowing in advance how and when a candidate may “go off the rails” also allows us to target our efforts better so as to encourage the person’s professional development as well as take more effective action.

Career derailers

A person’s derailers refer to a particular tendency that is demonstrated more in two very specific contexts. On the one hand, people will be more likely to go off the rails when they are under a great deal of pressure. Yet, the pace of work is getting faster and conditions are becoming increasingly complex the world over. In 2010,approximately 73% of Canadians stated that they felt a certain amount of stress at work in the last month. Of these people, 62% stated that work is their greatest source of worries. On the other hand, the negative side of our personality is also revealed more when we are under-stimulated and lack interest in our work. In fact, boredom is a source of stress! A recent Gallup study shows that 70% of employees in the U.S. are bored at work and feel disengaged on a regular basis. There is therefore a very good chance that the position that you are seeking to fill includes sources of stress and/or boredom that could cause the dark side of a candidate’s personality to emerge. Why is it that a given derailer has more of a chance to show up and have detrimental effects? The overall context within the organization and for the position, in addition to the stressful nature of the work environment, all have an impact. However, certain factors relating specifically to an individual are equally as important. The more that people are aware of their derailers, as well as the triggers and the resulting effects, the more they will be able to manage the impacts on their performance. Moreover, the more that people are equipped to manage stress and the more the strategies used to manage emotions are effective, the more they will be able to mitigate the negative effects of this dark side of their personality.

The dark side of performance

Our business partner, Hogan Assessments, has identified 11 derailers that can have a negative impact at work. However, some are more detrimental to performance than others. For example, derailers that cause an individual to avoid or keep a distance from others are universally associated with decreased leadership performance. They are also associated with lower levels of commitment and work satisfaction as well as an increased risk of burnout. Other derailers may give the impression that a person is inconsistent or unreliable if they show up regularly. Some even hinder a person’s ability to develop good interpersonal relationships at work or to inspire confidence. By systematically using a personality test that assesses the dark side of a candidate’s personality before hiring the person, you may obtain all sorts of useful information. If you think things through carefully, there are certainly some derailers that are much less acceptable in your organization and others that do not seem as bad. A number of organizations have determined that their worst-performing employees obtained higher scores for certain derailers. They were then able to use this invaluable information to hire candidates who will perform better and to identify team members with high potential.

Can there be a bright side to all this?

Derailers are widely recognized as talents pushed to the extreme. Some studies even suggest that certain derailers can have a positive impact on a manager’s performance, while others apparently foster development of leadership skills. It is therefore important to nuance our interpretation of the dark side of someone’s personality, taking into account as many positive factors as shortcomings. It is better to know what to expect before hiring someone, since being aware of a person’s derailers thanks to a personality test makes it possible to assess his or her fit with the position and whether it will be possible to support the individual’s professional development. Once a person has been hired, how can we ensure that the derailer is an asset for the organization rather than a risk factor? We must help the person stay in the zone where his or her dark side will remain a talent and to help him or her limit the negative effects. Helping the person to develop stress management strategies is therefore a key factor. Moreover, it is important to provide concrete and immediate feedback on how other people are being impacted to help the person to understand how his or her dark side is revealed and to develop a different approach in such situations.

Additional information

How do you derail? Eleven one-minute videos giving an example of each of the derailers

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Myriam Plamondon MSc, MA, OGC
  • Senior Consultant & Coach | Leadership & Team Development

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