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Handling A Narcissist at Work

Handling A Narcissist at Work

Handling A Narcissist at Work

At some point in your working life, you will work with a narcissist.  You might be managing them, they might be managing you or it may be a colleague at your level, but there will be a day when you realise you are working with a narcissist.  It might even be you.  No seriously, I’m not accusing you of anything. 

You see, here’s the thing.  Most people exhibit narcissistic traits from time to time.  It is normal to want attention or approval.  It is common to see yourself or others through rose-coloured spectacles.  And It is natural to want to see the bright side.  And it can be helpful to feel a bit special.

That in itself gives the confidence to take risks, to ask that special person out, or to ask for a promotion.  But when that ‘feeling special’ extends to all of the time, then things can get out of hand. 

Are All Narcissists Full of Themselves?

Not all narcissists are obvious ‘preeners’ and they don’t all care about looks, or money or fame.  You can find narcissists who are devoted to others.  Their whole life is about how much good they do – they are martyrs, self-sacrificing to the point of being extremely annoying to us ‘lesser mortals!’.

There are also ‘introverted narcissists’.  Those who feel hypersensitive to even gentle criticism, and need constant reassurance.  The way they feel ‘special’ is to be worse than everyone else – more ugly – more ill – more problems.

What is a Typical Narcissist?

And then there are the typical narcissists – those who are charming and motivated, who drive others to results – all good stuff until they are crossed or feel threatened.  At which point they can turn into raging monsters who will not back down and will not be satisfied until they receive a grovelling apology. 

What they all have in common is ‘self-enhancement’.  They believe their very thoughts set them apart from others.  This feeling of superiority soothes them because under the surface they have a fragile sense of self. They may feel superior to others but that doesn’t mean they feel secure in themselves or happy with themselves.

Narcissists Can be Prone To Depression

It may surprise you to know that narcissists are prone to depression.  When reality catches them up and they glimpse at a world that does not recognise their greatness, they can react by becoming depressed. Loss of any kind is difficult for anybody, but for the narcissist, it suggests vulnerability and weakness – which is not part of their image of themselves.

Of course, there are levels of narcissism – but diagnosis of clinical narcissism is fairly rare – 0.5% – 1% of the population.  Any such traits spring from a deep-seated insecurity and fragile sense of self-esteem.  This behaviour pattern comes from a childhood where success and achievement were not recognised or were never enough, or the child was told not to brag for example.

Narcissism is a highly inheritable trait and like anything can be encouraged or curbed depending on formative relationships. Environment also has a part to play – with one study showing rates of narcissism up to 4 x higher in competitive New York for example, as opposed to Iowa. And children learn quickly if a parents love and attention is only available when expectations are met.  Highly competitive environments encourage ruthless behaviours – and that’s where narcissists flourish.

So How Do You Deal With A Narcissist At Work?

Well, there are a few tips below.

  1. Set clear boundaries and do not budge on them.  A narcissist will encroach on people to the level they accept being encroached upon. 
  2. Let go of your ego and the need to ‘fight back’ or ‘be right’.  It will never work with a narcissist.  So don’t go head to head – unless it is essential.  But if you do – then expect retaliation.
  3. If it doesn’t matter – let them think they are right.  But don’t be a pushover, unacceptable behaviour is unacceptable behaviour, whoever is dealing it out. Get HR involved if boundaries are being overstepped. 
  4. Try not to need them.  If they are indispensable to you, they will know it and use it to manipulate. 
  5. Be compassionate.  They have a problem.  It could be a serious mental disorder, or a minor personality defect – but they have a problem.  It was caused in their childhood.  It’s not you – it IS them.  So be kind!
  6. It’s not all bad.  Motivated narcissists can make things happen and if you are along for that ride, it can benefit you too!

And so you can see, narcissists are not the easiest of people to manage or be managed by.  If you are having trouble dealing with someone in your workplace and you think they might exhibit narcissistic tendencies – we can help.  Drop us a line at julie@thinkbedoleadership.com