Study identifies how ‘toxic people’ still become professionally successful


Washington D.C.: How can that “toxic person” get away with things and still become successful professionally? A recent study has identified social skills as the key to the trick.

The study was led by Dr Mareike Kholin, Bastian Kuckelhaus and Prof. Dr. Gerhard Blickle from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bonn and team, with the results presented online in advance in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Toxic personality is a term used to collectively describe a person who behaves greedily, immodestly and unfairly and takes the truth very lightly.

Having a social skill, in general, is a good thing at the workplace, as it helps to open locked doors and to help cope with daily stress. However, mastering the very same social skill can also be used to deceive others, or break someone’s trust.

Dr. Mareike Kholin and the research team determined that toxic personalities who are considered socially adept by their colleagues were considered more capable by their superiors and occupy a higher hierarchical position.

“We have to get used to the idea that social skills can be a double-edged sword,” says Kholin.

In personality tests, “toxic” persons have low scores in the categories of honesty and modesty.

“Such personalities tend to focus on themselves all the time,” says Blickle. “Good social skills enable them to deceive others.”

On the other hand, those who are distinctly honest and modest are a real joy for their team: Such individuals behave fairly and allow colleagues to share in their successes.

Psychologists from the University of Bonn investigated the phenomenon by interviewing various work teams, accessed their behavioural patterns and collected data from a total of 203 of employees, colleagues and superiors.

The results showed that workers with low values for honesty and modesty can nonetheless succeed in their careers if they balance the toxic parts of their personality with social skills. Bastian Kuckelhaus: “Trickery, disguise and deception are the dark sides of social skills.”

“In order to slow down the ascent of toxic personalities, more attention should be paid to actual performance and less to the good impression when selecting staff and making assessments,” advises Prof. Blickle.

This is particularly difficult in activities where it is important to impress and arouse interest, such as in sales or leadership positions. “Here, it makes sense for instance to also look at the sickness and notice rate of employees or customer loyalty,” Blickle adds. (ANI)