Sunday, June 16, 2019

9 Psychological Questions That Will Help You Read Anyone

Deep discussions” have become really popular recently. Basically, this is something like a one-on-one philosophical conversation between friends. But nowadays, deep discussions have become a totally new way of communication that helps people get to know each other better.
Bright Side has found 9 interesting questions that can make your partner in conversation get involved in a discussion about things they’ve probably never thought of before. These questions require detailed answers, so “yes” and “no” replies won’t work. And still, there are no correct answers. But as we all know, sometimes a good question is already an answer.
And remember, you shouldn’t ask these questions to a person you are afraid to be disappointed in.
9 Psychological Questions That Will Help You Read Anyone
  • Would you open an envelope that has the date of your death inside? With the answer to this question, you might understand a person’s level of fatalism and their attitude to life in general.
  • Would you be friends with yourself? Here you can figure out a person’s self-esteem, their strengths and weaknesses, and how interesting they are.
  • If you could see a measuring scale above people’s heads, what would you want this scale to measure? Their status in society, their level of happiness, their wealth, etc.? With the answer to this question, you will be able to understand a person’s values and priorities.
  • What do you do differently from other people? Here, you can understand a person’s self-esteem, their sense of humor, the level of craziness in them, and how unique their personality is.
  • If your partner never finds out that you accidentally cheated on them, would you tell them about it? The answer indicates a person’s moral standards and their attitude toward other people.
9 Psychological Questions That Will Help You Read Anyone
  • Do you ever get the feeling that the current day has been repeated 100 times? With the answer to this question, you might understand how a person lives their life and whether their life is meaningful to them or not.
  • If women and men lived on 2 different planets what would happen to both of these planets?Here you can understand whether this person is inclined to stereotypic thinking or how logical they are.
  • If you commit a crime to feed your hungry child, are you a bad person or did you commit the crime out of necessity? Again, this will show a person’s moral standards and their attitude toward their family.
  • If happiness was money, what would your job be? Here you can understand a person’s hopes and dreams, and what they feel like they are missing in their life.
9 Psychological Questions That Will Help You Read Anyone
There are so many other questions and dilemmas. You can even use them as entertainment at a party or as a way to get to know a person better.
Which questions would you ask a person that you’re interested in?

Why Good People Become Evil Bosses

All I do is win, win, win, no matter what
Got money on my mind, I can never get enough.
— DJ Khaled, All I Do Is Win
Previously, I explained that assholes exhibit what psychologists call the “Dark Triad” of personality traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. While one is generally born a psychopath, and develops narcissism from early childhood, almost anyone can become Machiavellian given the right circumstances. Thus, I argue that Machiavellianism is the most dangerous trait of all, and is flourishing due to the Silicon Valley culture that promotes winning no matter what. The following is an answer to the organizational paradox of why good people become evil bosses.
Here are three archetypal stories of those who “break bad” into Machiavellianism.

The Hard-Driving Leader

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My cell phone lights up on a Saturday afternoon with a text message that reads: “URGENT: Call me!” It was from Amy, a CEO I was coaching through the inevitable rollercoaster ride of startup life. Amy was smart as a whip, an optimist to a fault, and one of the most genuinely nice leaders I’ve known. As a young, first-time CEO, she has done an admirable job of building a first-rate company, and, more importantly, possesses the humility to seek help to fill in her blind spots. Today, her usual confidence was overshadowed by worry, as she revealed that her company was facing another sexual harassment complaint.
“I swear that 75 percent of my job as CEO is just fixing people’s problems,” she confesses. “I had no idea I’d have to deal with all this!”
“No one does,” I commiserate. “But the primary role of a CEO is to be Chief Psychologist. Often that’s recruiting, hiring, and retaining talent. But it also means fixing the people problems no one else wants to touch.” I ask her about her strategy, and I can hear the frustration rising in her voice.
“Look, I’ve tried to get HR to fix this. I’ve met with each employee personally, I’ve held three meetings, even tried moving people around. …I’ve done all I can. I’m going to sic our legal pitbulls on this to threaten the claim away.”
I empathize with her predicament: “You’ve clearly tried a lot of different solutions to address this. It’s not from a lack of trying.” And then I begin to gently share my advice with her. “But you’re confusing process with problem solving. All of your steps seem perfectly logical, but they’re actually an avoidance of the issue.”
Her attention perks. “Which is what?”
“Doing the hard thing: taking responsibility. You didn’t cause this, but you did let this situation fester. Don’t hide behind your legal team. Own up to it and stop it from continuing one minute longer.”
She sighed a painful sigh of recognition. “You’re right, but I just can’t deal with this right now. Our lawyers can. I’m going to take an Ambien to try to get a few more hours of sleep. I’ll call you on Monday, I’m sorry.”
I recognize Amy’s pain. It’s the feeling of burnout. As a clinician and executive, it’s interesting to see that empathy burnout is commonly acknowledged among those in the medical field, but virtually ignored among CEOs. This type of burnout is characterized by the trifecta of emotional exhaustion, detachment, and low sense of accomplishment, and occurs when people feel overwhelmed by the demands of caring for others, given limited time and resources.
The original hypothesis was that doctors experienced burnout due to “compassion fatigue” or having too much empathy, so they were bizarrely cautioned to not get too attached to their patients, lest they experience burnout when or if their patients don’t get better. A more mature explanation of burnout has emerged though: Chronic stress ends up diminishing empathy, and it’s actually this lack of caring that contributes to burnout. So rather than avoiding empathy, a more cognitive empathy should be cultivated to prevent burnout.
While everyone knows CEOs can be overworked, what’s less acknowledged is that the burden of being responsible for so many people also chips away at their empathy and leads to burnout. When that happens, Machiavellianism can set in, and they start to lead from a place of defensiveness instead of company values. Amy’s capacity for empathy was intact, but as she rose from being an individual contributor to managing hundreds of employees, her patience wore thin from being burned one too many times. While she genuinely wanted to improve her company’s culture, she felt her first priority was to keep the ship afloat. Perhaps it was, but she failed to see that mutiny was as big a threat long-term as running the ship aground.
In our coaching sessions, we worked on reducing her stress and rebuilding her empathy by reconnecting with the original values the company was founded upon. I knew our work was done when she forwarded me an email to a direct report, which showed she was no longer trying to avoid through delegation. The email started with: “I was wrong. I feel terrible about it. Let me find a way to make things right.”

The Conniving Executive

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Beyond the will to live and the drive to reproduce, one of the most powerful human motivators is the desire for approval. Most successful people were first motivated by praise they received from their parents at an early age. So it’s unsurprising that some people never quite outgrow it, and later seek approval from a surrogate parental figure: their boss. Few things are more depressing than seeing a 50-year-old executive, with their parents long gone, still striving to be whole in another’s eyes.
Bruce was that person. I was hired by a VC board member to interview him for a CEO position at a hot startup. On paper, Bruce was a seemingly consummate executive: wonderfully conscientious, meticulous at consensus building, and a fearless navigator of political waters. His bosses loved him, but his 360-degree reviews were a little more mixed, despite his efforts to carefully cultivate his reputation. I knew something was amiss when I interviewed his direct reports, the more deeply intuitive of whom said they just didn’t trust him.
“It’s like talking to a robotic AI chatbot,” one said. “All the right words come out, scripted just for you, but it doesn’t really care.”
In my initial conversation with Bruce, he guardedly admitted he was aware of his reputation, but attributed it to the fact that he was a more formal professional from a different generation. His “millennial employees” just couldn’t relate. But my read was that he was a mercenary who could run a militia, but whom you could never trust with anything you truly cared about.
Let me share a telling story: Everything had gone well at Bruce’s current organization until it was about to acquire another company, and he was put in charge of the merger. He told a talented member of another team this confidential news, but swore her to secrecy, making her promise not to tell her boss. Her boss ended up finding out from someone else later on.
When I confronted him about this, I already had my suspicions about his intentions. He was too smart and deliberate to make a simple mistake like this.
“So why did you put your colleague in the awkward situation of promising to keep your secret from her boss?”
He gave a calculated response. “I trusted her to stay silent, but I didn’t trust her boss to. He cared too much about the people who would be impacted.”
I countered. “No, you were grooming her as an abuser would, because you wanted to poach her later. If her boss never found out, she proved her loyalty to you. If she confessed to her boss, you know she could never become your trusted foot soldier.”
His smile turned into a frown, but I continued. “But if her boss found out about your arrangement from someone else, he would no longer trust and promote her, which would drive her into your arms for a promotion. Her lose-lose was your win-win.”
From the anger flaring in his eyes, it was apparent that the jig was up. “You cannot tell the board this. It’s my time to finally be CEO. I’ve earned it!”
I paused, letting the silence stretch out between us. “Actually, the board already knows. They didn’t hire me to vet you. They hired me to convince you to take the job anyway.”
“What do you mean, anyway?”
“What they didn’t tell you yet is that the company is going to be shuttered next year because of lawsuits it’s facing for unethical sales practices. They wanted someone exactly like you to keep the place running smoothly as it’s sold off for parts.”
His face turned pale. For the first time, he didn’t have an answer.
Bruce was not Machiavellian by nature. His conniving behavior was more sad than it was evil. He was raised by strict parents who never told him he was good enough, which made him constantly strive for approval. And it worked. He ended up becoming CEO anyway — the title and prestige were irresistible. By doing so, he became the “proto-parent” whose love he sought so desperately. The tragedy was that, as CEO, his “children” would listen to him, but they would never love him.

The Striving Employee

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Psychologists try not to have favorite clients, but Grace was admittedly one of mine. She was a self-described “Southern belle,” and one of the warmest and well-mannered clients I have ever coached. But that persona belied Grace’s fierce ambition. She graduated Vanderbilt law at the the top of her class, and was given two promotions in less than two years. Her future seemed bright and secure, but she hired me anyway to accelerate her growth. Because many clients I take on are dealing with significant issues, it provides me a nice balance to get to work with people who, like a professional athlete, just want to be better.
Counterintuitively, our early coaching work focused on teaching her to apply the brakes. Though accomplished at an early age, she was still an individual contributor and desperately wanted to move into management. It was clear that she would be promoted in due time, so the first task was just to instill patience.
“You know, while I can share my experiences and give you books to read, most of this you’ll simply have to learn by doing,” I told her.
“I understand,” she acknowledged. “I just want to be prepared when the time comes.”
“I appreciate that. But it’s like being a parent. You’ll never be fully prepared. I suggest you use your current position not to learn managerial skills, but to learn the intrapersonal intelligence you need to be successful.”
She listened intently.
“You have interpersonal intelligence in spades. You understand people and they like you because you treat them well. But you can develop more intrapersonal intelligence: knowing yourself.”
“I’d like to think I know myself. What else do I need to know?” she asked, curiously.
“That your ambition is a double-edged sword. What got you here won’t get you there.”
She nodded slowly, as if taking notes in her head. “Explain…”
“Your ambition brought you success, and you should be proud of that. But effort alone won’t necessarily get you to the next level. History has shown that unfocused ambition can sometimes cause people to make compromises.” I paused. “I’m curious. Has your ambition ever led you astray?”
She gazed off into the room, and said in an almost-whisper: “Yes, there was this one time…”
I nodded in encouragement.
She continued. “An executive from my last job. She wasn’t my manager, but took me under her wing, confided in me about an upcoming merger, and made me swear I wouldn’t tell my own boss.”
Her story sounded familiar, but I stayed reserved. “Why did you agree to keep that secret?”
“To be honest with you, the merger would open up a manager position in her department. I figured that if I kept her secret, it would curry favor with her enough to install me.”
“No wonder. So what happened?”
“My boss had heard rumors about the merger and asked me if I knew anything. I lied and said I hadn’t. I felt terrible, but I wanted that position so badly. Ironically, it never ended up being filled.”
“So how did this affect your relationship with your boss?”
“It didn’t.”
“It didn’t?”
“He just carried on as if nothing happened. I thought he never found out. But he eventually left and on his last day of work, he took a walk with me. He politely asked when I had heard about the merger, and I finally confessed I had lied. He said he had known, but didn’t begrudge me because I shouldn’t have been put in that position in the first place,” she explained solemnly.
“He forgave me, and even offered to continue to mentor me,” she continued. Then she shared a last bit of advice he gave her, which she said she’d never forget:
Integrity is everything. Jobs, managers, and even companies come and go, but your name stays with you forever.
“Wow.” I was awestruck. “You know, I take it back. There is another way to learn to be a good manager besides doing.”
“What’s that?” she asked, remorse written all over her face.
“By observing. Your manager showed you the meaning of grace even though you lied to him. Usually only loving parents can turn the cheek and show that kind of benevolence. You now know what a good boss and an evil boss are, and it’s up to you which kind of boss you will be.”
The tears swept down her face. She closed her eyes and nodded.


Anatomy of a Workplace Asshole

InThe Performance-Values Matrix,” I argued that the biggest reason company culture degrades is that companies hire, retain, and promote “assholes” (mercenary employees whose lack of empathy causes interpersonal issues). I also introduced the Performance-Values Matrix as a reinforcement system to assess and address this very problem. Let’s now dive deeper into a clinical understanding of “asshole” behavior and how it can be carefully managed in a corporation.

Part I: Anatomy of an Asshole (The Dark Triad)

“Asshole” is not a term I use clinically or scientifically, but rather commonly because it provides a shared understanding of something you “know when you see it.” My goal here is to offer insight into and clearly categorize a pattern that you probably intuitively recognize.
Clinically, there are three distinct types of socially aversive personality traits, known as the “Dark Triad”: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. These traits are dimensional in the sense that all of us fall somewhere on the spectrum, but only those who are very high in the trio of traits can be considered diagnosable with antisocial personality disorder. If you’re curious, you can take the online Short Dark Triad personality test to see what percentile you exhibit in these three traits, compared to the general population.
The key to understanding the Dark Triad is that while all three share a callousness toward others that encourages manipulativeness, they do so for distinct reasons. Psychopaths are driven by short-term tangible rewards and engage in reckless, antisocial behavior to get them. Machiavellians are fueled by long-term tangible rewards and will strategize schemes to get them. Narcissists are motivated by whatever boosts their ego, whether it be tangible rewards or simple praise that validates their idealized self-image.

Psychopathy, aka the Gordon Gekko

Psychopaths are your typical movie villains. Their emotionality is callous and aggressive (manifested as angry outbursts or even physical violence with little remorse) and their behavior is impulsive and irresponsible (often blatantly disregarding the safety of themselves or others). They gleefully defy norms and laws, and use deceit and manipulation for profit or, even more alarming, self-amusement.


Though only 1–2 percent of people in the general population can be clinically diagnosable as having antisocial personality disorder (as stated in “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” or DSM-5, a widely respected mental health atlas), they are unfortunately overrepresented in corporations, especially among CEOs. Favorite cinematic depictions of psychopaths in corporations include Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street and Patrick Bateman in 2000’s American Psycho.
A unique aspect to psychopaths is they tend to have a short-term focus: for example, they will lie for immediate gratification, even if those lies compromise their long-term gains. Other short-term behavior such as recklessness and thrill-seeking tends to drive ambitious and reckless criminal behavior. For further reading, I recommend the book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work.

Machiavellianism, aka the Frank Underwood

The Machiavellian is a strategic, calculating manipulator who believes that the ends justify any of the means. While as manipulative as psychopaths, Machiavellians are far more future-oriented: planning ahead, forming alliances, and carefully maintaining their reputations. They tend to achieve the latter by shielding close friends and family members from their nefarious ways.


Unlike psychopathy, which is partly genetic and rarely remediable, Machiavellianism can be more of a fluid state as opposed to a permanent personality trait. As the Milgram and Stanford prison experiments suggested, normally prosocial people can act in surprisingly Machiavellian ways when in certain situations, under certain conditions. In fact, I have seen corporate leaders, who appear to be genuinely kind in their personal lives, act surprisingly Machiavellian when their companies are put into difficult financial dilemmas (e.g. hiring and refusing to fire mercenary employees). Corporate culture, particularly in Silicon Valley, encourages such behavior by glorifying leaders that “do whatever it takes” to ensure their company survives and succeeds.
The irony is that startups say they love “hustlers” (i.e. proactive employees that do whatever it takes to get the job done), although the term hustler also means someone who cons and cheats others. Coincidence? Probably not. For further reading, I recommend the classic books Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and for a more modern rendition, Robert Greene’sThe 48 Laws of Power.

Narcissism, aka the Tony Stark

Most people are familiar with the most obvious features of narcissism: grandiose self-confidence and self-centeredness, which comes off as smug and self-serving. However, the narcissist is actually very insecure and on a never-ending quest for ego-reinforcement, which includes going so far as to deceive himself. Narcissists seem to believe their own boasts and feel entitled, even when it can be verified that they are exaggerating their competence.


Emotionally, narcissists feel anger and aggression if their fragile ego is threatened, in what’s known as “narcissistic rage.” Given that they cannot be vulnerable enough for true intimacy, their relationships tend to be unempathetic and superficial. Behaviorally, they tend to act antagonistically toward others — manipulating, lying, and threatening their way to their desired results — and engaging in uninhibited acts that are irresponsible, impulsive, or risky to seem exciting or daring.
It is important to note that some degree of ego is actually healthy and necessary to form a resilient sense of self that allows one to persevere through trying times. The distinction is that healthy self-confidence is an attitude based on mastered accomplishments, adhered values, and respect toward oneself and others, while narcissistic self-confidence is actually a psychological defense against underlying inadequacy (which is why it’s referred to as “malignant self-love”).
At some point in their lives, about 6 percent of people will meet full criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, with more men (almost 8 percent) than women (almost 5 percent) qualifying. As with the rest of the Dark Triad, narcissists are overrepresented among leaders , especially leaders of nations. For a psychoanalytic perspective on how narcissism develops, I recommend Alice Miller’s book, The Drama of the Gifted Child.

Part II: The Accidental Asshole (High-Functioning Autism)

Distinct from the Dark Triad spectrum is a condition that can actually be useful for work, called Autism Spectrum Disorder, in which high-functioning cases were formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome. People on the autism spectrum are not usually assholes. But they share an impaired sense of empathy that can make them seem like assholes.
The key distinction is that people with Dark Triad traits are often insensitive to others, while people with autism can be indifferent. They have difficulty picking up on cues that would prompt them to do or say what’s considered socially appropriate. One of the best showcases of this distinction is in the movie The Social Network. To be clear: I am not attempting to diagnose Mark Zuckerberg (who was my Harvard classmate and a nice guy), but am discussing his somewhat fictional movie representation in line with the rest of this post.


The film starts with Mark and a fellow college student Erica going out on a date. She quickly breaks up with him because he says offensive things, which she interprets as him being an asshole (i.e. Dark Triad spectrum). However, by the ending scene, Marilyn, Mark’s attorney, recognizes that he’s less an asshole, and more painfully oblivious (i.e. on the autism spectrum), and is trying to mimic the hard-nosed behavior of what he believes other CEOs do.
Opening scene [Erica]: “You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Ending scene [Marilyn]: “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.”

Cognitive vs. Affective Empathy

Most people think of empathy simply as understanding others, or confuse it for sympathy. But psychologists distinguish between two main types of empathy: cognitive and affective. Cognitive empathy is the capacity to understand another person’s mental state, while affective empathy is the capacity to respond with an appropriate emotion to another person’s mental state.
For example, if you see someone fall and rip their jeans, experiencing cognitive empathy would be to place yourself in their shoes and realize the other person would likely be thinking “How embarrassing!” But affective empathy would be to actually experience feeling embarrassed for them along with a compassionate desire to help them in that moment.
As seen in the matrix below, people on the autism spectrum have impaired cognitive empathy and intact affective empathy, while people on the Dark Triad spectrum have the reverse: intact cognitive empathy and impaired affective empathy. Thus, people on the autism spectrum have interpersonal difficulties because they have difficulty understanding social situations, while people on the Dark Triad spectrum understand social situations well, but often have antisocial objectives. So people on the autism spectrum are asocial, while people on the Dark Triad spectrum are antisocial. It is also possible to have both autism and Dark Triad spectrum traits, and thus feel little cognitive or affective empathy.

© Dr. Cameron Sepah

Unempathetic Partners in Crime

It would seem that people with Dark Triad and autism spectrum traits would not likely be friends, given that people with Dark Triad traits can often be (superficially) charming, while those on the autism spectrum often have trouble fitting in socially. But these individuals often become partners in crime because their respective deficits in empathy allow them to work together in a strangely parasitic symbiosis. This metaphor is useful in understanding how their motivations differ at work:
“[People on the autism spectrum are] focused on ‘building a better box’; on the box itself, on how it’s made, on improving it, on what else it can be used for, on other boxes like it, and often wants others to hear about the box and their ideas, share in their enthusiasm, or at least be understanding or respectful of their enthusiasm about ‘the box’.
[In contrast, people on the Dark Triad spectrum are] focused on getting credit for ‘building a better box’ (whether they built it or not), getting seen as the ‘box-builder’, getting credit for being the Most Expert Box Builder, how the box can be used to make themselves money or to further their personal agendas, how to hide the fact that someone else built the box.”
My favorite movie portrayal of this dynamic is from the 2013 biopic, Jobs. In a dramatic scene, Steve Jobs convinces his friend Steve Wozniak to help him design a new video game for Atari, but lies to him by offering to split a $700 bonus (which was really $5,000). Years later, Wozniak found out about Jobs’ duplicity while reading a book on Atari’s history and was brought to tears.
Thus, those with Dark Triad traits tend to prey on people on the autism spectrum and use them as “sidekicks” to exploit their loyalty and talent. However, when the person on the autism spectrum figures out their true intentions, the Dark Triad person often turns on them in order to avoid being exposed. For example, a manager can influence an analyst to produce promising but questionable data to push their own agenda, which later results in a falling out between the two (often after irreversible damage is done).

Part III: Managing the Darkness Within

Even if they are competent, people who strongly exhibit Dark Triad traits at work need to be remediated or separated in order to maintain the company’s culture. However, if they stay, it is critical to recognize the degree to which they are socially and occupationally impairing, and take swift steps to mitigate damage when social dynamics become disrupted or exploitative. In my experience, Dark Triad employees work best at values-congruent companies if they are in niche roles that accentuate their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
They often work better as individual contributors, given that empathy is a key aspect of being a successful manager, and the perception that your manager genuinely cares about your well-being is one of the strongest predictors of employee job satisfaction. Thus, individuals who strongly exhibit Dark Triad traits and have to regularly interact with others often need to be specially managed in order to ensure both their personal success and the well-being of those around them. Using the Performance-Values Matrix is a helpful management structure to reinforce prosocial behavior and punish antisocial behavior.
It’s important to note that there are exceptional CEOs with these traits that are still wildly successful and admired. In the case of Steve Jobs, he exhibited these traits, but he was also an incredibly talented visionary with a complementary team. Being surrounded by operational leaders with high emotional intelligence (EQ) can help balance the high IQs and temperaments of visionary CEOs and steadily steer unicorn companies forward.
In case you take such success as an excuse to flaunt your darker traits as a leader, just remember: you are not Steve Jobs. Unlike a renaissance prince, as a CEO, it is much better to be loved than feared. Effective leaders must embody the light by understanding and managing the darker traits of their employees.

Continued in Part 3: Why Good People Become Evil Bosses