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Does Personality Influence Toxic Behaviour?

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The role of personality in toxic behaviours

Personality traits that drive negative behaviours

Research has shown that personality traits such as anger, lack of self-control, low honesty and humility can increase the risk of a person behaving badly.

Learn how to identify some of the personality markers in recruitment that will make it easier for you to assess whether somebody’s likely to behave toxically or not in your workplace.

The role of personality in toxic behaviours

Watch the video to understand how personality affects the likelihood of someone engaging in toxic behaviours, and the specific personality traits to watch out for to reduce the changes of hiring a toxic employee.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 6 – How Do Values Influence Toxic Behaviour?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 4 – Integrity Testing and Screening

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number five in our 11-video sequence on toxic behaviours at work.

This one, we’ll be talking about personality and giving you an understanding of how personality can drive negative and positive behaviours at work, but also how to identify some of the personality markers in recruitment that will make it easier for you to understand whether somebody’s likely to behave toxically or not in your workplace.

State and trait anger

One of the things that we need to be conscious of in identifying toxic behaviours is a thing called anger.

Now, the human neurology operates according to the fight flight freeze response.

So the fight response is driven by anger.

The emotion of anger tends to cause negative behaviours, like for instance, bullying.

Bullying corresponds heavily with anger.

But anger comes in two forms. What’s called state anger, which means basically anyone can become angry if they’re pushed enough for a little while, a state, a state of mind, if you want to put it that way.

The alternative is trait anger. And trait anger is where you have a characteristic, a dispositional tendency to anger.

And some people, I’m sure you know this, you know people who are very hard to make angry generally and other people who tend to get angry quite quickly.

And so this is a characteristic called trait anger.

And what we know is that Hepworth and Towler going way back to 2004, demonstrated that people who have trait anger tend to be more likely to do bad things to colleagues and to the organisation than people who are low in anger. So that’s worth knowing.

Anger is a driver. So measuring for anger on the way into an organisation can be a really good indicator of whether a person is likely to do bad things or not.

Plus people who aren’t very angry are just much more fun to have around, right?


Second is self-control. And so levels of self-control are an indicator of negative and positive behaviour.

So low self-control is a bad thing.

And we know, for instance, that people who have lower cognitive ability, people who have lower IQ tend to be a little bit less effective in self-management than others, but there’s a personality characteristic, which is all about self-control, self-regulation, and that personality characteristic is a predictor of whether people are likely to have negative or positive outcomes in their life.

A big study in New Zealand called the Dunedin Study of Human Development showed that when people were low in self-control at early stages in their life, it was much more likely that later on, they would end up with a disrupted lifestyle in terms of employment or living condition or the relationships that they’re in.

So people with high levels of self-control tended to have better outcomes in terms of a stable place to live, stable relationships and stable work.

Sexual harassment

Now, likelihood to sexually harass is another extremely negative psychological characteristic.

And this is a tendency for people to use power to try to gain sexual dominance. And this correlates extremely heavily with a thing called the Honesty/Humility scale of the HEXACO personality model.

Now, the HEXACO personality model is a model of personality that was discovered by two guys by the name of Kibeom Lee and Mike Ashton in a 10-country study, seven different language groups.

And they identified six personality characteristics that were present in all of these different countries and all of these different language groups by surveying thousands and thousands of people.

And what they discovered was that where most people had thought that there were five key aspects of personality, they discovered a sixth.

Honesty / humility

This thing is called Honesty/Humility (refer to video).

Now Honesty/Humility is the tendency to be arrogant, or truthful, or humble. And basically people who are arrogant tend to be less truthful and less straightforward and more manipulative than people who are humble, modest, honest, and truthful.

So this was a very big breakthrough because it was discovered after this Honesty/Humility characteristic was discovered. It was discovered that this predicts things like how likely you are to go to jail.

People who are low in honest Honesty/Humility go to jail more often than people who are high in this characteristic. So it’s worth knowing.

We’ve also discovered in our research here in Australia that if you are low in Honesty/Humility, you’re much more likely to undertake bullying and harassment and theft-type behaviours at work.

So these honesty behaviours are really important in predicting negative behaviours at work, including sexual harassment, so Honesty/Humility scale is important.

“Dark triad” of nonstandard personalities

And it gives rise to a thing called the Dark Triad of what’s called nonstandard personalities.

Now, people have heard of words like psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.

Psychopathy is the tendency to be manipulative. It’s the tendency to be self-seeking.

It’s the tendency often to have a kind of a gloss, a charm which makes you approachable and maybe even charismatic to people, but you tend to have a characteristic of being disorganised, being less than helpful to people, even evil.

I mean, obviously, if psychopathy is significant enough, you find things like serial killers have these characteristics, and it’s a tendency to see people more as things rather than as people. And so, that’s where negative behaviours come from.

Now, a characteristic of psychopaths is that they usually score low in the Honesty/Humility scale of the HEXACO, but so do narcissists and Machiavellians.

So narcissism is all about I want to self-aggrandise, so I need to be seen as special in front of other people. I may not be out and out evil, but I certainly am very self-seeking. Machiavellianism is all about manipulation. And it seems if you meet the true Machiavellian, you wonder what they’re manipulating for.

It’s almost like manipulation is its own reward.

I manipulate and I achieve something virtually by manipulating, even though I don’t get richer from it or I don’t get some political outcome. It seems like manipulation is its own prize.

HEXACO model of personality

There are psychological markers for these things.

Here, we talk about the HEXACO model of personality (refer to video).

So low Honesty-Humility, which relates to manipulation.

Low conscientiousness, which relates to an erratic impulsivity.

Erratic meaning I might do things one way this time and another way another time, but impulsivity is all about I will obey my urges rather than managing my urges.

And finally, low extraversion can lead to callousness and a particular flavour of extraversion.

So if we look at the personality profile here, this is the HEXACO. And you’ll see that the Honesty-Humility profile is a strong indicator of warning signs for people’s likelihood to undertake negative or toxic behaviours.

And in particular, we focus on fairness because if a person is low in fairness, what that means is that they’re happy to have unequal or unjust outcomes for other people.

The second indicator is conscientiousness. So when people are low in conscientiousness, especially if they’re low in Honesty-Humility, then that is an indicator of negative, toxic style characteristics.

It’s certainly an indicator of potential psychopathy, and we strongly encourage you not to draw that conclusion or tell people who have these results that this is the case, but in particular, if people are low in prudence, what that means is that they’re likely to be somewhat impulsive in the way that they make their decisions and they don’t make their decisions advisedly.

So some introverts, particularly if they’re low in Honesty-Humility and low in conscientiousness, and also, especially if they’re low in sociability, which means I don’t particularly like people.

If you had this combination, then that would be worrying, particularly if the results were strong.

Let’s add to that anger, when people are angry. And you see the low score in patience here.

Patience means I’ve got a short fuse.

And we know, for instance, if people are in customer service roles, or let’s say service provision roles, such as in disability or aged care, or even things like prison guards, when people have low levels of patience as defined by the HEXACO, which means that they have high trait anger, then that means that they are extremely likely to undertake negative behaviours.

That would be a personality combination which would be very worrying.

So personality does have an effect on people’s behaviours and you really should check people’s personality when you hire them to make sure you’re not importing these negative behaviours.

But what about values? People talk about values all the time and how they affect positive behaviours.

In the next video, we’ll be talking about values and toxic behaviour, so join us to find out to what degree a person’s value set will affect the degree to which they are likely to manifest toxic behaviours.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about dealing with toxic employees:

Part 6 – How Do Values Influence Toxic Behaviour?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 4 – Integrity Testing and Screening

And if you’d like some help screening future hires for toxic behaviour, contact us about our Psychometric Assessment Tools.

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