Are negative personality traits prevalent on selling floors?
Outside of CEOs, lawyers and celebrities, salespeople score higher than all other professions for three negative personality traits — Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy — collectively known in psychological theory as the dark triad (DT), according to a recent university study.
Researchers from the University of New Hampshire, University of Kentucky, Texas A&M University and Florida State University found that DT traits can offer significant advantages for some salespeople to get ahead and secure longer tenures. Over time, however, the self-interested, antagonistic behaviors associated with DT traits are likely to “undermine their relationships with colleagues, diminish their social capital, and subsequently reduce their performance.”
The research explored why dark salespeople can persevere, and even thrive, on retail selling floors, as well as their overall impact.
A first study exploring performance showed how narcissism (entitled self-importance) and psychopathy (callousness and cynicism) allow dark salespeople to succeed in the short term but eventually lead to a “fall from grace,” including lost performance gains. In contrast, Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and deceit) produces little in the short term but manifests in long-term performance benefits.
A second study explored the reach efficiency of the dark personality’s social network. When a salesperson’s network exhibits high reach efficiency, information about their misdeeds becomes socially visible to others who have an indirect connection to the dark personality while those with low reach efficiency can better hide their social shortcomings.
The study found that when reach efficiency is high, narcissism and psychopathy lead to decreased sales performance in subsequent periods, while those with Machiavellianism traits benefit.
Researchers assumed salespeople with dark personalities are often hired by retailers because they showcase more functional selling traits during the interview process, such as charisma, and mask the dysfunctional ones.
Three recommendations were offered to manage such difficult personalities:
- Train hiring managers to recognize signs of DT traits in the interview process;
- Train sales managers to recognize performance patterns that signal a dark personality to determine if interventions are needed;
- Encouraging sales managers to leverage social networks and peer feedback to facilitate the unmasking of dark personalities.
- The Effect of Dark Traits Such as Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy on Salesperson Performance – American Marketing Association
- EXPRESS: Understanding the Performance Effects of “Dark” Salesperson Traits: Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy – Journal of Marketing
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does the sales associate position tend to attract individuals with “dark triad” personality traits? Should individuals with such personality traits be better managed and possibly weeded out or is that a big ask for store managers?