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
- Displays ruthless disregard for 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 themthat 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.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Empire Building
- Empire builders create bases of power within the larger organization. Typically, they use these domains
to advance personal or provincial agendas. What are the characteristics of empires? How can we navigate
through or around them?
- Ethical Influence: II
- When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can
we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?
- The Costanza Matrix
- The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if
you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
- Cultural Indicators of Political Risk
- Because of fire risk, hiking in dry forests during dry seasons can be dangerous. In the forest, we stay
safe from fire if we attend to the indicators of fire risk. In the workplace, do you know the indicators
of political risk?
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine
which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's
ability to collaborate.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.