Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 18, Issue 16;   April 18, 2018: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: V

Narcissistic Behavior at Work: V

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

When someone at work exhibits narcissistic behavior, others respond. Some respond by accommodating the behavior, and those accommodations can include special and favorable treatment of the person behaving narcissistically. That's one place where trouble can begin.
A high-occupancy vehicle lane on Interstate 5 northbound near Shoreline, Washington

A high-occupancy vehicle lane on Interstate 5 northbound near Shoreline, Washington. Drivers in this lane do receive favorable treatment, but they "earn" it by arranging to carry passengers. Not all favorable treatment is problematic. Some favorable treatment provides an incentive to perform a valuable service, or to comply with a requirement that has organizational value. Photo (cc) SounderBruce courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Divisiveness, jealousy, and openly toxic conflict are the almost inevitable results of accommodating narcissistic behavior at work. Although accommodation might seem to be the easiest and quickest way around the misbehavior, the immediate "advantages" of accommodation are overwhelmed by its less immediate but far more costly disadvantages. As a reminder, the behaviors and attitudes typically regarded as narcissistic are these:

For convenience in this series, I've been referring to the person exhibiting narcissistic behaviors and attitudes as either Nick or Nora. In this part, it's Nora.

Let's have a closer look at the fifth item above: expecting and demanding favorable treatment, which is often the immediate precursor to accommodating behavior on the part of others.

Illustrations
Most of us believe that we deserve some level of respectful treatment as human beings. That sense of entitlement crosses into the narcissistic when we feel that we deserve a special level of respectful treatment — at all times and in all circumstances beyond what others deserve, solely because of our own specialness.
For example, when Nora presents her work to her team, she resents any attempt by others to comment upon it or evaluate it. Her attitude is that she produced it, and therefore it isn't subject to comment by anyone else. She even resents comments like "Nice job, Nora," because she holds that her teammates aren't qualified to judge her work. Nobody really is.
At performance review time, many of her reviews of her subordinates are late and perfunctory, because she's "too busy right now" with more important work. Her own performance review is a different matter. After her supervisor presents it to her, she demands that some material be added and other material be revised or deleted. And when her supervisor objects, she presses hard over several meetings until her supervisor finally relents.
Description
Favorable treatment is perhaps too weak a term for what Nora expects. She wants to be treated as if there were special rules and policies that apply only to her. When she feels the need for exceptions even to those special rules, those exceptions should be granted. These demands transcend formal policy. They extend to all personal relationships. For example, she demands the right to interrupt anyone who's speaking, and the right to enter any conversation between other people whenever she wants to.
She makes these demands and has these expectations because she does actually want what she says she wants. But it's more than that. By gaining favorable treatment, she confirms her view of her own specialness. When favorable treatment isn't forthcoming, she interprets that as an assault on her specialness. Her response seems disproportionate to most people, because they tend to gauge her demands with respect to what she's demanding. But what matters most to Nora isn't what she's demanding — it is validation of her view of her own specialness.
Organizational risks
Accommodating By gaining favorable treatment,
Nora confirms her view of
her own specialness
Nora's demands for favorable treatment inherently produces unfair treatment across the group population. Accommodation creates problems at two levels: personal and organizational.
She demands more than she receives, and she regards as worthless anyone who fails to accede to her demands. In some cases she seeks retribution for these failures. On the other hand, she briefly lavishes attention and favors on those who do meet her demands, not as repayment, but to demonstrate to others that meeting her demands is preferable to failing to do so.
At the organizational level, Nora's favorable treatment creates problems for data management and for personnel management. Any data management process that must deal with Nora's anomalous data deliveries produces unreliable output. Her data deliverables arrive out of sync with the deliverables of others. They differ in quality and format. Most maddeningly, her deliverables might arrive in media that differ from the expected form: verbal instead of email, or MS Word instead of the standard Oracle form. These variations make data compilation difficult.
When Nora's co-workers learn of Nora's special treatment, resentments are almost inevitable. These resentments are fuel for toxic conflict, by processes analogous to the results of her demands for attention and admiration. But they do something more. Upon learning of Nora's favorable treatment, some of Nora's co-workers try to reduce the gaps and non-uniformities in treatment by demanding favorable treatment for themselves. One consequence is increasing incidence of non-uniformities in data deliverables.
Coping tactics
As Nora's supervisor, you're the most likely target when Nora seeks favorable treatment. If you've been accommodating her, immediate cessation is likely to cause real trouble. She might file grievances against you for any kind of mistreatment that she feels might be credible. For your own safety, be certain that your house is in order before you make any changes. When you do end the favorable treatment, be prepared with sound reasons based on her performance shortcomings. If you haven't yet accommodated her demands for favorable treatment, don't start.
As Nora's co-worker, if you notice that she's receiving favorable treatment from others, there isn't much you can do. If you choose not to accommodate her demands yourself, be prepared for attacks. When attacked, keep in mind that counterattacks are more likely to deter future attacks than any defensive moves would be.

Next time, I'll examine narcissistic exploitation of others for personal ends. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrennaDnoJJfDwwYBoMRner@ChacyMdPaIofhRXyAbsaoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Threatened and fearfulThe Costs of Threats
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
Freeway damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta, California, EarthquakeManaging Pressure: The Unexpected
When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure.
The Rindge Dam, in Malibu Canyon, CaliforniaSnares at Work
Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how to deal with them.
Aggregating anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima)How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness
When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?
Malibu beach at sunsetFailure Foreordained
Performance Improvement Plans help supervisors guide their subordinates toward improved performance. But they can also be used to develop documentation to support termination. How can subordinates tell whether a PIP is a real opportunity to improve?

See also Workplace Politics and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Thomas Paine, considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United StatesComing December 12: Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
Shared information bias is widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But over time, it can erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality and the group's perceptions of reality. Available here and by RSS on December 12.
Feeling shameAnd on December 19: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHPPPLlnnNUcvylOfner@ChacuLvTZnMtKATFQFfgoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.