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Volume 18, Issue 9;   February 28, 2018: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I

Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I


Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there.
Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'

Daffodils of the variety Narcissus Barrett Browning. Narcissus, the scientific name of the genus commonly known as daffodils, is a name taken from Greek mythology. Narcissus was a hunter known for his beauty, of which he was very proud. In the myth, Nemesis, who was the goddess of revenge or divine retribution, became aware of Narcissus' extreme pride, and attracted him to a still pool, where he saw his own reflection. Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, unaware that it was just an image. He became unable to leave it, and soon died.

Narcissistic behaviors at work are certainly damaging to the organization. The person exhibiting the behavior is also harmed, though by adopting a nomadic career, it's possible to stay ahead of the negative consequences for extended periods. Photo courtesy U.S. National Parks Service.

How to cope with narcissists at work is a popular topic on the Interwebs these days. Which is interesting, because the term narcissist serves as both a lay and clinical designation. The two usages differ. And it can be difficult to know which sense pertains when we hear the term in use. The clinical sense implies that the person in question is afflicted with what psychologists call Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Because few of us are equipped to make such a diagnosis of our co-workers, even if they're willing to submit to examination, I prefer to focus on behaviors and attitudes rather than the person exhibiting them.

In this and coming issues, I'll examine a set of narcissistic behaviors and attitudes. For each one, I'll provide illustrations, a description, an indication of its organizational risks, and suggestions for coping with the behavior until management finally intervenes. Here are the behaviors and attitudes I'll examine:

  • Expresses exaggerated self-importance
  • Preoccupied with superiority fantasies
  • Believes that he or she is special and that only special people or institutions can fully appreciate that specialness
  • Constantly demands attention and admiration from others
  • Expects and demands favorable treatment
  • Exploits others for personal ends
  • Ruthlessly disregards the feelings of others
  • Envies others or believes that others envy him or her
  • Is Off-the-charts arrogant

For convenience, I'll refer to the person exhibiting these narcissistic behaviors as either Nick or Nora. Let's begin this time with "Expresses exaggerated self-importance."

Nora insists that all meetings, whatever their agendas, be scheduled at times when she can attend, because a meeting without her can't possibly reach any valid conclusions. If an important task is assigned to a subgroup, that group must include Nora. If it does not, she insists on reviewing their results, and then adjusting them as she sees fit.
Feeling Because few of us are equipped to
diagnose clinical narcissism in our
co-workers, it's safer to focus on
behaviors and attitudes rather
than the person exhibiting them
that oneself is more important than someone else in a given situation is a common sensation; feeling that oneself is more important than everyone else in all situations is probably narcissistic.
Organizational risks
Behaviors and attitudes like Nora's are inimical to organizational survival. Even if Nora is often justified in her assessment of her own capabilities, nobody is always right. Letting her views prevail consistently in these ways exposes the organization to high risk of catastrophic blunders.
Merely expressing the belief that one is more important than anyone else — let alone acting on it — is dangerous to the organization and constitutes a performance issue. Management must intervene and deal with it as such. If management doesn't intervene, others compelled to accept the presence of someone like Nora will learn that there's little opportunity for them to contribute or for their contributions to be recognized. The more capable among them will seek opportunities elsewhere, and those people are the very people the organization should nurture and develop.
Coping tactics
If you supervise Nora, your duty is to take corrective action. Your Human Resources representative can guide you.
If you aren't Nora's supervisor, alert Nora's supervisor to the problem. If no effective action results, you can consider filing a formal grievance, but beware: Nora is unlikely to tolerate anyone who stands against her. If she learns of the action you've taken, the consequences for you could be seriously unpleasant. In some situations, your best option might be finding an exit — for you or for Nora — and keeping your head down until you do.

Next time, I'll examine the attitude I've described as a preoccupation with superiority fantasies.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: II  Next Issue

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