Have you ever had to deal with a narcissistic personality at work. If you have to think about it for a minute, chances are you probably haven’t. Their inflated perception of themselves, among other behaviors, is usually very apparent.
So how do you manage such personalities in the workplace? First off, you need to educate yourself on what you’re dealing with and avoid playing the therapist in an attempt to cure or even save these types of employees. Throw this idea right out the window and let’s get real. These people are not just having “one of those weeks” or feeling the sudden need to be recognized. Their narcissistic tendencies are deep-rooted.
So let’s talk about how you can better control their narcissistic personality at work in order to make an otherwise toxic environment more pleasant.
How to recognize a narcissistic personality
Peeling the layers of what it means to have a narcissistic personality is a topic in itself, so for the sake of this discussion, let’s quickly underline some basic characteristics:
- exaggerated and/or unrealistic sense of self-importance;
- pervasive pattern of grandiosity and need for admiration;
- inflated judgments of their own accomplishments and underestimation/devaluation of the contribution of others;
- interpersonally exploitative (takes advantage of others to achieve own ends);
- lack of empathy (unwilling to identify feelings and needs of others).
Note: An interesting associated feature of someone diagnosed with narcissistic personality is that, although not obvious or shown, can feel very humiliated, degraded and even haunted by criticism or defeat.
Has the light bulb gone on yet? Perhaps you have come across a co-worker with such tendencies?
Of course it is important to understand that someone who is narcissistic may not be diagnosed with the mental illness. According to the DSM-IV-TR (2010), only when certain traits are “inflexible, maladaptive, persisting and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress do they constitute Narcissistic personality Disorder”. Let us focus on employees that have narcissistic “tendencies”, which may or may not turn into such a diagnosis.
4 tips to manage narcissistic personality at work
Now that we know how to recognize narcissistic personality at work, let’s take a look at some tips to properly manage them:
1- Polish your narcissistic radar
To manage narcissistic personality at work, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for early warning signs to prevent being affected as much as possible. Narcissists can be fantastic actors, so you will need to see beyond their facade. They are never wrong and always putting the blame on someone else. They may have this exaggerated charm at first, and spend more time in the beginning at building relationships with people they deem useful (aka: easy to take advantage of).
Other co-workers may have trouble calling them out (or are even afraid to do so) because the narcissistic employee has probably used guilt and/or fear to control them. They may criticize and be cruel to co-workers, seem paranoid, and skillfully arrange an event that places them at the center of attention.
In the end, managing narcissistic personality at work more effectively may require you to be very attentive to signs that suggest things just don’t seem right, that there is a heavy feeling within your organization, more blame and pointing fingers than usual, and perhaps an amplified egotistical attitude coming from one of your employees that goes beyond wanting recognition.
2- Keep a narcissistic journal
If you are directly dealing with narcissistic personality at work, it can be very difficult to confront or argue your way out of an unpleasant situation. Narcissists will likely try to eliminate what they feel are threats and/or irritations, without demonstrating any empathy. In other words, they probably won’t forget or just “let it go”. You must be one step ahead of them, without being obvious about it. Keep detailed notes of what went down, what you’ve observed and even specific things they’ve said so that when the right time comes, you will be ready to provide a timeline of facts to justify your arguments.
3- Know your own personality
In the initial stages, narcissists usually surround themselves with people that enable them to do what they want and treat them the way they want to be treated: as the best thing since sliced bread.
You will need to look within yourself and uncover your true personality, especially your capacity to handle stress and anxiety. Are you very accommodating, do you trust people too easily, are you always looking to help others? Narcissists may see these traits as a gateway to receiving special treatment and playing manipulative mind games.
Do you have trouble saying “No”? The employee with narcissistic personality at work may use this to his/her advantage. Make sure you are aware of who you’re dealing with, and be on the lookout to see if all your hard work is going unnoticed. If you get the feeling that your working relationship with someone is one-sided, perhaps you need to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation. Tread lightly! Remember that narcissists are “always right”, and are preoccupied with fantasies of power and brilliance. It may prove to be very difficult to reason with them. Make sure you know yourself enough to be able to detect early on if you are being taken advantage of.
4- Don’t take it personally
The most important thing for people with a narcissistic personality at work is themselves. Their lack of empathy and arrogance can make anyone around them feel victimized. But don’t take it personally! It has nothing to do with you, and has everything to do with their need for admiration. They may pass judgment or disregard all your efforts and contributions, even talk behind your back for their own gain. They may belittle you because they feel they need to only associate with people who are “special” or “perfect” enough to meet their sense of grandiosity.
As hard as it may seem, don’t let them bring you down. Make sure you have a good support system around you in order to evacuate your stress in a safe way. Don’t expect anything from these individuals, especially not recognition. If you are managing someone who has a more sensitive personality, they may be more susceptible to having their energy drained by a co-worker with narcissistic personality at work. Your focus should be on managing them and their well-being as opposed to wasting time and energy on the narcissists who probably won’t change anyway.
In the end, it’s hard to figure out if you should just stroke the ego of someone with narcissistic tendencies in order to avoid unleashing a ripple of unpleasant events, or actually confront them. Either way, you should always try instead to limit your time spent with them, to be one step ahead by jotting down your observations, knowing yourself and how vulnerable you might be, and never taking what they do personally. Chances are they won’t last long within your organization once their true colors are revealed. Take the necessary steps to be more conscious of the personalities within your organization today!