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:
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 specialnessNora'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.
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
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenPIjbOEAnuZhftWFrner@ChactLlNlnLDFGucJOWVoCanyon.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.
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.
More articles on Workplace Politics:
- When You're the Least of the Best: II
- Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies"
have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts
with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
- Confronting the Workplace Bully: I
- When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront
or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
- When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations
of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
- We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably
is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
- The Opposite of Influence
- The question of why some people are so influential has a partner question: why are others largely ignored,
or opposed, even when their contributions are valuable?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenKbFjOnaXbOrgZuWNner@ChacKzESOpgZRqMWFdNPoCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
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
- 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.