By Maria Lebron, January 2020
In today’s world, there has been much talk of narcissism. How do we know if someone is a narcissist and how does that impact us? The classic description of narcissism is a disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, a disregard for the feelings of other people, an inability to handle any criticism, an exaggeration of their achievements and talents, and a sense of entitlement. Narcissists exist in all walks of life, and while some people fit the textbook definition of a narcissist, sometimes things are not so black and white. It can often be difficult to determine if someone is a narcissist and to understand how that could impact one’s life. Under certain circumstances we can all display narcissistic tendencies. If not, we wouldn’t be able to assert our own needs. However, not all of us consistently display narcissistic tendencies.
The Narcissist in the Workplace
Much has been written about how narcissism can be a useful leadership trait. Narcissists can be innovators who are willing to take risks because they want to gain power and acclaim and leave behind a legacy. Narcissists also strive to make changes to existing systems which can transform a firm or government. Actually, in times of radical change, the narcissist’s lack of empathy can be useful in making decisions and taking actions which could ultimately hurt others, i.e. massive layoffs, etc. Narcissists can be extremely charming and are able to convince others to support their “vision” of the future.
So when does working with a narcissist become problematic. Narcissists are poor listeners and distrustful who only listen to information they agree with. They can take on projects which they are unwilling to admit they do not have enough knowledge of or are unable to change course or rein things in when things begin to go wrong. Most likely a narcissist won’t think they are part of the problem, but rather that they are being undermined by others onto whom they project their insecurities or incompetence. Narcissists are very manipulative and exploitative and want to surround themselves with people they can control…narcissists don’t want real feedback or teamwork, they want “yes-men.”
Given the large number of narcissists in corporations or governments, the challenge is to clearly see the problematic narcissistic traits and manage them before the narcissist does damage to himself or the organization. This won’t be easy because perceived threats or criticisms can trigger rage or paranoia because of the narcissist’s need to protect their fragile ego.
How to Deal with a Narcissist
What can you do if you find yourself working with a narcissistic personality?
— Don’t try to change the narcissist. Instead, focus on what you need for your growth within the organization. Set realistic expectations for your position and what is being expected of you.
— Maintain appropriate boundaries. You can be friendly but don’t become friends with the narcissist. Don’t reveal too much which can be used to manipulate or demean you should things not work out.
— A narcissist will only give you credit or acclaim if it benefits them. If the narcissist feels you are a threat or not a true supporter, they will try to discredit you and your accomplishments.
— Know that the narcissist may not welcome feedback which they feel isn’t supportive of them or their ideas. If you feel you need to voice your dissent or resistance to something, do it in a way that won’t be perceived as a criticism.
— Find a good support system you can confide in when there are difficult situations you are dealing with, but be careful who you confide in and that it doesn’t come back to hurt you.
— Finally, always be careful!! When the narcissist isn’t able to control you, they will resort to controlling how others see you.