Coach Dark Traid Traits may be a neglected area of attention. What happens when the coach has dark triad traits? In a new study, Professor Adrian Furnham, of University College London has explored the area of coach dark triad traits and what impact they might have on coachees.
Coach Dark Triad Traits
The dark triadi is a trio of the negative personality traits of:
- Psychopathy is an antisocial disorder that is marked by a lack of normal
emotional response and empathy, coupled with low impulse control.
Psychopaths find it difficult to develop normal functioning relationships and
display high levels of egocentrism. Psychopathy frequently leads to the
individual’s manipulating others for their own purposes, with no sense of guilt
or empathy, and can be highly damaging to their victims. There are two forms
- Primary psychopathy, which is defined by low agreeableness or
reduced social cooperation with others.
- Secondary psychopathy, which is characterised by low agreeableness
and high levels of neuroticism expressed as anxiety and emotional
- Primary psychopathy, which is defined by low agreeableness or
- Machiavellianism is defined by cunning and the manipulation of others’
distrust of others and the manipulation to achieve goals, gain power and
reach higher social status. People with higher levels of Machiavellianism tend
to control others through both direct and indirect means.
- Narcissism is the pursuit of self-gratification through vanity or egotistic
admiration of one’s idealised self-image and is expressed as a need for more
authority and an over-inflated view of oneself.
- Narcissistic coaches may rate their skills and abilities like
effectiveness highly, even when this is not the case and clients are
- Coaches may also see themselves as skilful and accomplished when
they are actually mediocre, so career satisfaction may seem higher
- Narcissistic coaches may rate their skills and abilities like
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Professor Adrian Furnham
Professor Adrian Furnham, is Professor of Psychology at UCL in the UK and the Norwegian Business School in Oslo with a rather distinguished career in psychology. Adrain has published 92 books and over 1,200 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Earlier this year, Adrain published an interesting paper with a colleague from UCL, Simmy Grover. The paper, entitled ‘The Dark Triad: Emotional intelligence, self-monitoring and executive coach effectiveness and satisfaction, was published in ‘Coaching, the International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice‘.
Adrian Furnham – Coach Dark Triad Traits
[00:00:00] David: So today I’m talking with Professor Adrian Furnham who’s Professor of Psychology at UCL in the UK and the Norwegian business school in Oslo with a rather distinguished career in psychology. Adrian’s published 92 books and over 1,200 peer review journal articles. Earlier this year, Adrian published an interesting paper with a colleague from UCL Sydney. The paper entitled the Dark triad, emotional intelligence self-monitoring and executive coach effectiveness and satisfaction was published in coaching the international journal of theory, research and practice. Welcome, Adrian. It’s a real pleasure to meet you at last. Can you just start off by giving us a little bit of your background and what kind of led to this study?
[00:00:43] Adrian: Yes. I’ve been an academic for many, many years, and I’ve had of course, very talented students over time. I have been involved in coaching and evaluating coaching, and I had a PhD student now, a lecturer, in [00:01:00] fact, she got my job at UCL, Dr. Semi Grover, who herself was a coach and had access to coaches through a number of organizations and there’s a lot of work being done on people who are being coached, but very little work on coaches themselves. So we thought it was a wonderful opportunity to explore The world of coaches and their psychology. In fact, in the end, we got 500 business coaches to sign up to our study. So we were lucky in that regard and we thought we’d explore something a bit different compared to the usual
[00:01:35] David: Yes, it certainly is unusual in is that it looks at the dark triad traits of coaches rather than coachees. Can you just explain a little bit about the dark triad for anyone who’s unfamiliar with the term or may not be in psychology?
[00:01:49] Adrian: Yes. There’s been an interest in what are called the dark traits and the dark triads. Essentially, this is a difference between psychology and psychiatry and the psychologist’s interest in personality [00:02:00] traits, things we’ve all heard about introversion, extroversion, whereas the psychiatrist interested in personality disorders, such as things like OCD, psychopaths, et cetera. And, there’s been something of a rapprochement between the psychologist and the psychiatrist, but nearly 20 years ago, a psych cologist a man called Paulhus from British Columbia, published a paper on what he called the dark triad and he chose two personality disorders, psychopaths and narcissists, but he added a third one Machiavellianism, so of the personality disorders he chose just two, and added Machiavellianism and this dark triad has really taken off. In fact, it’s now become the dark Tetrad because the researchers have added in sadism as another variable, but there are now literally it’s houses of papers. In 2013, I published a paper on the review of 10 years down the line, and now it’s really taken, people have become quite fascinated by this, and I must make [00:03:00] one very important point and it’s really. We at the psychiatrist now don’t conceive of psychopath, narcissist in terms of typologies or types, in the sense of he is a psychopath, he is not a psychopath, but this is a dimension. So there’s a dimension from not at all psychopathic to very psychopathic, not at all narcissistic through, you know, high self-esteem subclinically narcissistic and clinically narcissistic. So on all of these measures, we conceive of people being high, medium, low on a variable, so it’s not as if we are saying he’s a psychopath, she is a narcissist. Rather this score is high on one of these variables. That’s a very important point to bear in mind because in typological terms, we talk about he’s an extrovert and she is a narcissist but of course it’s always dimensional. And that’s why in this study, people say, my goodness, you are studying psychopathic coaches, and I said, no, I’m not studying psychopathic coaches, I’m studying their [00:04:00] scores on psychopathy. So you and I might be happy, healthy, functional individuals, and we’ve very good relationships with a reasonably high, psychopathic score, which would lead us to behave in a particular way, which doesn’t mean that we are immoral or illegal in all our actions. I think it’s a very important point to bear in mind.
[00:04:20] David: And what are the kinds of behaviors that are behind the dark triad traits?
[00:04:25] Adrian: There are the classic behaviors that you would find described in psychiatry. So the major characteristic associated with psychopaths, when you ask people and I’ve done this many times, I’d say to them, well, what is the psychopath? What is the abiding characteristic of psychopath? Nearly always they say lacking of empathy, well, they’re right. In the sense that they don’t have much empathy, but nor do narcissism machiavellian for that matter. It’s not empathy, it’s guilt. So the important characteristic associated with psychopaths. Yes, they are risk takers. Yes, they disobey the rules, and so, but they don’t suffer, [00:05:00] Freudians would call super ego problems, they don’t suffer from guilt, which allows them to do things, to break rules, abuse people. I don’t mean necessarily physically, in ways that they don’t suffer any conscience, so it’s like a conscience light. The issue with narcissism, of course, when we divide these into two categories by large, they are divided into grandiose and vulnerable, think Mrs. Clinton for grandiose and Mr. Trump for vulnerable, that they have self-esteem issues and the vulnerable narcissist is they both have inflated views of their abilities and self, that they are not well calibrated. They’re not really self-aware about their abilities, their talents, their attractiveness. They overemphasize these, the vulnerable narcissist is one which is easily, their balloon is easily pricked. They are easily hurt by very, very seduce critique of their behaviors, whereas the [00:06:00] grandiose narcissist is not, they’re very interesting people. Of course, you know, the question is, when is narcissism, when is self high self-esteem, subclinical narcissism and when it’s subclinical narcissism, clinical narcissism, and it’s, if you meet people with high self-esteem and you assume that they are, that their self-esteem is a function of their self awareness, I have self-esteem because I know I’m good at what I do. Then you tend to be impressed by people with high self-esteem, but what I overemphasize how good I am at what I do and which I’m wrong. I am not as good, not as talented, not as insightful, not as perspicacious, not as emotionally intelligent, as I think I am. Indeed, what if I’m very wrong in that view? And you know, the issue is, how unattractive narcissists are. They’re very difficult to coach and yet they do rather well in life. And I say to people, you know, if you are a good-looking, articulate, educated, psychopathic, narcissist, [00:07:00] my goodness you can do well in life, you could really do well. There are many jobs where you really rarely succeed and it’s because of that observation and that data that we thought, well, maybe this is true of coaches that you know, we have the view of a coach as being a deeply empathic person whose job it is to help business people who, of course coaching is a business like any other business people get into the business and some of them will not be as self-aware as they think they are. Indeed not, even if one of their jobs is to make their clients more self-aware, which is a bit problematic if you yourself are not high in self-awareness, so that’s the debacle
[00:07:40] David: Excellent, so you were looking at the impact of the dark triad and allied factors on emotional intelligence, self monitoring, career satisfaction, and the level of coaching effectiveness of coaching coaches, which is interesting because I haven’t seen a study that’s done that yet, what did you find?
[00:07:57] Adrian: Well, there was one problem. It’s [00:08:00] relatively easy and accurate to measure, coaching satisfaction. You know, how happy you are being a coach and so on and so forth. We did try and measure coaching effectiveness. Now, of course, this is the holy grail, you know, the question is, I might believe I’m effective, but indeed am I effective and I think the weakness of our paper, was that we measured effectiveness by the judgment of the coaches themselves. Now that could account for a number of our findings satisfaction I’m quite happy with. It’s very, very difficult, you know, I spend a lot of my time working to show the validity of psychological tests of one sort or another. And to do that, you have to, in a sense, get behavioral data. If you say this test produce is associated with productivity at work, then you’ve got to measure productivity, you’ve got to measure effectiveness. Now it’s like I spent years indeed with Michael Agala in Oxford trying to measure the effectiveness of therapy. Does therapy work? [00:09:00] Does any therapy work? Does psychoanalysis work? Does cognitive behavior therapy work? And it’s very difficult research, you think it’s very straightforward, it’s extraordinary problematic, because you’ve got to find a way of measuring effectiveness, you need a control group, and we wouldn’t go into that business. And you’ve got to make sure it’s not a placebo effect. In this study, we ask people how effective they thought they were, so that is a weakness, I think the study, and we’re happy to admit that it would be lovely to have a good measure of effectiveness. So in the jargon of experimental psychology, our independent variables were personality, so we were measuring the dark side personality, we were measuring, emotional intelligence and a variable called self-monitoring and our dependent variable one. Job satisfaction as a coach and efficacy and we thought that there would be a relationship between the dark triad and both of those variables and we found not entirely what we predicted, but some evidence to support [00:10:00] our hypothesis, namely that people who Machiavellian and psychopathic were less effective and less satisfied but the narcissists were the opposite, they believed they were more, you would predict that more effective and more satisfied. What was interesting was the idea that the psychopathic and Machiavellian people, those were higher scores were themselves less satisfied, that they weren’t particularly satisfied with being in the job. That was anything question. The question was why, what are jobs are they better suited to? But excitement and the complexity of the reserve study was to look at what is called the moderator variables. So we looked at two and I’ll deal with one which is better, it’s called emotional intelligence. Now the question is what is emotional intelligence? And I think you can really sum it up by two things. It’s about emotional awareness. Am I emotionally self-aware, do I know? What [00:11:00] emotions I’m having and why, and do I know what emotions you are having and why? So it’s awareness, but it’s also management. Am I able to manage my emotions? And am I able to manage your emotions? So it’s a classic two by two. And so we looked at what is called a moderator effect. That is, with our psychopaths with higher emotional intelligence or narcissist with high emotional intelligence, does that have an effect? And the answer was, yes, it did, that emotional intelligence did moderate the effect of the dark side. That is, even if I was a narcissist with which is a dark side variable, then I had some emotional intelligence, but that emotional intelligence could, in some sense, modify or moderate that factor. So it’s of course, as always a more complicated picture than one things, you would imagine that coaches have high emotional intelligence, you would expect that, that would be a criteria for the job, but of course, with all [00:12:00] other jobs, when you measure people, some are more than that, and the idea of it being curvy linear. And I must explore this idea of curvy linear, but what it means is both too much and too little of a phenomenon of a trait or not good for you. So if you take narcissism, think of self esteem, low self esteem, people worry about and get therapy for low self-esteem and then you have high self-esteem and high self-esteem is thought of as good, but beyond high self-esteem, subclinical narcissism and clinical narcissism. So you want enough self-esteem and so it is with psychopath. You want people to be bold enough, mysterious enough. You’re not able to confront poor performance. You want them to have guts and to have, you know, and to, deal with significant problems head on, and you don’t want them to avoid that, which is too low equally, you don’t want too much of it. And so I think our paper showed like many others, that you want an optimal [00:13:00] amount of these variables so you want optimal dark side, optimal bright side, and these, predicts behavior. So if you said to me, I have a coach who, you know, scores quite high on narcissism chats, very confident and very full of himself or herself. Then I’d say, well, you know, this is not necessarily a good thing, unless they are very talented, but also that they have high emotional intelligence because we know that emotional intelligence predicts. So. It’s a slightly more complicated picture than one things, but I think the strength of our study was that we got 545 coaches. We got, you know, real people middle-aged coaches who are very difficult to get hold of to do this. So in that sense, we could think of it as a rather good pilot study.
[00:13:47] David: Yes, it is a fascinating study. I think there’s a couple of things that may surprise people, that comes out of this study. First is, that you can get coaches who have relatively high levels of dark [00:14:00] triad traits, and the second would be that people with any combination of the dark triad traits can also have higher levels of emotional intelligence.
[00:14:09] Adrian: Yes, to go to the first one, I mean these traits are normally distributed. Now, one of the problems with coaching is it’s not very well-regulated and so you and I tomorrow, indeed I do it, I don’t know whether you do it, but there’s no reason to stop anybody putting their selves forward as a coach. And it’s a long and complicated story, but I remember on one occasion, an organization for which I did some coaching got in all their coaches, because someone had said there was a worry about some of these people, and of course, indeed there was, there was a very serious concern about three people who were sort of masquerading, they had no training, no background on this. And that’s part of the problem that, you know, literally you can put yourself on the web and saying, I’m a business coach, I’ve done a one week course so I’ve had a lot of experience and therefore one would expect with a large number that [00:15:00] there are a few dare, one call charlatans in the area and they might see it as an easy way to make money. So if you are a Machiavellian psychopath and you think, whoa, coaching’s rather a good game to be in, now, there are lots of ways in which organizations try and regulate the market and check on the background of individuals, but like everything else people will slide through equally, you might say that you want somebody with not only business experience, but somebody who’s been very successful in business. Now we know, you know, if you are, as I say, a good looking, articulate, educated narcissist psychopath you can probably do well in business. There are a lot of jobs where leadership requires you to be very self confident and very tough and very Machiavellian to get to the top, therefore, you’ve got a good CV, therefore you’ve been successful, therefore it looks as if you will be a good coach and you might be a very good coach. It all depends on how much of the dark side things you have, how [00:16:00] much narcissism, how much psychopathy and whether they are moderated by self insight. That’s the issue.
[00:16:07] David: Yeah. Fascinating, and do you think there’s a possibility you kind of hinted at this, that, occupations or endeavors, like coaching actually start to attract a percentage of people with dark triad traits.
[00:16:21] Adrian: Yes, I mean, what I’ve noticed is that, you know, people try and reinvent themselves. You know, you might in late middle age find that you are not very success. I mean, the question is what is the background of coaches? Where do they come from? What is their history? And I’ve known some enormously talented successful coaches who have been good at their job, they’ve been good business people and they’re good at their job. I’ve met others who, sort of, weren’t very successful and tried to reinvent themselves. You can make a reasonable amount as a coach, I’ve met people who will [00:17:00] make more money than they did as a senior executive. Well, this is a very attractive proposition. If you can go into a job where you require nothing more than what we’re dealing with now, zoom, or whatever and you can convince people that, you know, that some sort of talking cure, a friend of mine calls, coaching, expensive conversations, that we can have an expensive conversation that’ll be good for you. Then this is very attractive to people who have, let’s say, less ethical considerations. So it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest that you’ll find people in every profession you’ll find them, you know, not only used car salesman as one expects, but you’ll find in any profession, people with high schools on Machiavellian and psychopath and narcissist, and they can do well. The question is how high are the scores and what are their competencies? You know, do they understand some of the basics of coaching? And I would imagine there’s a number[00:18:00] who like in every profession, you’re going to find people who are charlatans and whatever, it will be to have coaching as anywhere else. The concern is how you as a client, detect this, you know, how if I had a beauty parade and I’ve seen and worked in, an indeed appeared in beauty parades, does the client know what questions to ask of the coach to get behind some of these darks triad traits
[00:18:26] David: That leads me beautifully onto the next question. So if you’re a potential client of a coach, what kinds of things would you look for in order to assess that you may have somebody in front of you who has these traits?
[00:18:40] Adrian: I think, I would always rely on reports of others. So what I would want to know from the coach is, I mean, I have a number of standard questions, but if you were touting being my coach, I would take down your projectors said, can you tell me some people you’ve coached? And so I’d contact them, and with your permission, [00:19:00] of course, I contact, I want to know the experience of the observer reports, you know, the idea of three hundred and sixty degree feedback has been very pop for a long time, but basically means that you have people above you, people, you work with people who are below you and people who you work as a consultant to. So I would invest again from others reports, some of the skills I’m interested in your sensitivity, perspicacity, interpersonal skills. So yeah, I’m interested in your story, but I’m interested in other people who work for you and be aware the coach who is low to give you details of those people who they’ve coach, they will come up with a number of reasons why ethically they’re not allowed to do this, but that’s what the data I would want. You know, it’s on initial judgment, it’s quite difficult, even a beauty parade. You’ve got a person’s CV, they appear in front of you, now with psychopaths and narcissists, if they are good, looking intelligent and articulate, appear extremely [00:20:00] attractive and get selected, get selected each time, and that’s where the problem lies. So you want another source of data, you know, I ask people I would say, well, how would you know, I’ve got a series of questions I would ask a potential coach, you know, what does success look like? Can you tell me the theoretical background that you are using? Can you explain to me how your particular experience and training makes you ideal for me, that sort of thing, and listen carefully to their answer. It’s like selecting any other professional you will do with a lawyer or an architect but people don’t know quite how to do it with coaches. One of the problems, I think, is that organizations do it for you, so you sitting here in a big organization and they give you a short list of potential coaches. Well, that’s very good, if the organization has been very assiduous and, and sensitive to who they put on that shortlist. And my experience tells me that, that’s not often the case.
[00:20:58] David: Yeah, I would agree. Certainly [00:21:00] I’ve experience of that. So what other things that we haven’t kind of explored is, what the potential consequences are of having coaches with I suppose, sub-clinical levels of psychopathy, Machiavellianism in our system, likely to be.
[00:21:14] Adrian: I have a friend who shall have to become nameless, who is a coach, and I would describe him as naughty. It’s a good word. Naughty school boy, I was naughty. Naughty means, you know, the rules, you can jump over the line, but you jumped back. It’s not being psychopathic. It’s not being this person is very shrewd and insightful about office politics and the way in which these sort of things work, and he’s interested in solving the problem of the client. So he’s not going to step back and go into some sort of history, he’s interested in helping the client the coachee, define and solve the problem. That’s what they really want, and you could see [00:22:00] this approach as rather and I think it probably is machiavellianism. You got a problem you want to solve the problem. People are difficult. You got to. And I think, you know, if I had any particular problem at work as a coach, I would choose him. He happens to be a psychiatrist, but that’s neither here nor that he’s very good at coaching because he has a pragmatic, he says pragmatic approach, which has, you know, a Machiavellian view of human behavior. I would choose him, as opposed to other people I know who are very warm and kind and considerate, and they would make me feel good, but they wouldn’t help me so probably, coaches are not going to solve a problem, they will help you think through a problem. But in that sense, I can see why some of the darker variables can be very useful and a very good idea.
[00:22:52] David: Okay. Great. So one of the obvious we’ve kind of touched on this, one of the obvious conclusions of the studies is, you know, screening [00:23:00] potential coaches I know organizations do this, with the exception of the kind of questions, are there other ways that organizations can do this, especially given kind of the explosion in the activity of coaching. I’ve just had a check couple of minutes ago. And you know, if you go onto LinkedIn and search for the term “coach” and looking how many people’s profiles, the term “coach” appears, there’s over 7 million people that’s some screening, what is it organizations could do to kind of help with this
[00:23:28] Adrian: Yeah, I think it’s a very important thing. I think they need to be very, very clear and help, they need help in what to look for, and I think it’s selection, you need two things you need to select in and select out, you need to say, these are the things we want, these are the experiences, education, stuff we want, and these are the things we don’t want, and these are the things we select out for. So we want, if there are signs of this and this, that is a select out variable. My experience is that organizations don’t do this [00:24:00] very well, they don’t, it’s heavily based on reputation and paradox. Again, it’s also based on price that the assumption is that price and quality are highly correlated, my expense, they’re not highly correlated, in fact, they almost negatively correlated. So. I think we should start with people in the areas, usually HR, but it could be someone else whose job it is to find coaches for your organization, that they are very insightful about what they want and why, remembering that coaches can be very, very convincing. And if you are a narcissist psychopath at an interview, you can do extremely well. You can come over with confidence. You can tell lies, you can look good. And you’ve got to be quite assiduous in what questions you ask, but also what background factors you look for. So my experience, as I said of organization, they don’t do this particularly well. So lots of people get through the net to be part of [00:25:00] the short list that is provided to a professional, from whom they choose their particular coach.
[00:25:06] David: Yeah, that’s interesting, there was actually another study that was published. I think it was last year or 2019 showing that there’s very little correlation between qualifications and coach effectiveness either, which kind of backs up..
[00:25:21] Adrian: …won’t surprise me at all. And many of them are very eager to get a two week, three week, five week course. I mean, I think psychologists would say that some have the third eye, that they are psychologically insightful. You will have friends who, you know, who’ve never done a degree in anything in their life related to this, but they have perspicacity insight, and so, then others with lots of qualifications don’t, but you know, there’s a scram for getting qualified. And if you look at the organizations that provide quote, they’re all over the place, some of, again, there’s attempts to regulate this market. And I know of a couple of courses I strongly [00:26:00] recommend they’re not cheap and they’re not short but people will go through, I was advising an ex student of mine the other day, some preposterously expensive course, a three week course, which gives her a diploma in something or the other and it looked to me a complete nonsense, but of course that’s another way of making money, is to give people through some qualification, which gives them a piece of paper. As I said, the frustration for organizations which do this well, and I’m associated with two or three of them, I see their frustration because of the non-regulated market and the inability of the potential client to ask the questions, which differentiates the bogus training from the serious training.
[00:26:43] David: Yes. Yeah, and again, I, you know, I’ve seen so many diplomas and things from organizations that have gotten, there’s no validity behind the claim or whatsoever. So just one final question. Just in terms of, I suppose, the dangers of ending up with a coach who [00:27:00] have higher levels of dark triad traits, what would you say that those potentially are?
[00:27:05] Adrian: That the coach effectively is manipulating you, the, you know, one of the things I’ve noticed and did with some of my own coaching clients is, you know, you usually agree to a certain number of sessions and so forth, and then there is the idea of continuing. Now, I remember one of the first coaches I ever did oh, probably 20 years ago. I said, you know, I think we set ourselves a target, we achieve the target and he said, yes, and he said, but I like, I’m enjoying this and I would like it to continue. And I said, well, I’m happy to do that, but you know, you are not paying, your client is paying it are we getting any good value for money. Now, the worry is if you are my coachee and I’m a bit psychopathic, I of course want to keep you on as a client, you know, it’s good for me to have the money regularly rolling again. And in that sense, it’s the termination of the contract [00:28:00] that we set ourselves, something to do, and we end it now, there would be clients and it would be coaches who for all sorts of reasons would not do a good job themselves and they would be new That’d be interesting other factors, but it’s this idea of making you dependent? You know, there’s a joke that Woody Allen has been in psychotherapy for 37 years and he’s still not cured. And I think the thing I’ve noticed is the idea of making people addicted to it, that they want you to make them need you. Now, if I was psychopathic and narcissistic and you were my client and pay me a lot of money, my goodness, I don’t want to lose you. So I’m going to keep doing things to keep you as my client, without helping you, which is what my aim was or should be in the first…
[00:28:45] David: Yes, so there is kind of an increase in manipulative behaviors within the relationship, this has been fascinating, Adrian, I really appreciate your time. I know you’re a very busy person. Are there any final things you’d like to say about this?
[00:28:59] Adrian: Such an [00:29:00] interesting area, and, you know, to be able to research coaches is not easy. And I would encourage anybody to try and do that, to get hold of people. There are wonderful characters, like, you know, everything has a normal distribution. There are wicked and bad people in every area as they’re on coaching, but to try and understand, the relationship and to get real coaches and to get some sort of profile to understand why some of them are more effective than others. I think it’s less interesting why they’re satisfied. That’s interesting enough, but you know, some people are good at their job. They really, really do make a difference. And to find that you know, magic in what causes that, what is the particular set of skills and traits do they bring to bear on a particular individual to let this happen? That I think is worth a lot of research effort and money.
[00:29:50] David: Yeah, exactly. And this is the first study that I’ve seen, that’s looked at coaching from this angle. Thank you very much, Professor Adrian Furnham. I [00:30:00] really appreciate it.
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