To envy someone is to feel unhappy about the success, assets, or capabilities of another. Accompanying this, often, is a feeling that one is inferior to the envied person, though the feeling of inferiority is likely to remain unexpressed, masked, private, and, perhaps, a secret from oneself. Even so, feelings of envy are familiar to many. Occasionally, these feelings serve us, in a way, by providing energy to pursue our own improvement. That's some of the good news.
And envy brings with it a degree of danger. It can disrupt relationships at the level of individuals, and create enmities on a societal scale — between economic classes, ethnic groups, or demographic cohorts. These feelings are also familiar to many. Feelings of envy can fuel toxic conflict and organized crime. Cynical politicians can use envy to foment wars. That's some of the bad news.
Narcissistic envy is another matter altogether. It's both more intense than the envy most of us recognize, and more continuously consistent — even relentless. And it drives other narcissistic behaviors.
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
- Ruthless disregard for the feelings of others
- Envies others or believes that others envy him or her
- Is off-the-charts arrogant
Let's now have a closer look at the eighth item above: envy of others or the belief that others envy oneself. For convenience in this series, I've been referring to the person exhibiting narcissistic behaviors and attitudes as either Nick or Nora. This time, it's Nick.
- For example, a week after Nick moved into a three-window (but non-corner) office, he heard that an even higher-status corner office was opening up due to the retirement of another Director. Knowing that he wouldn't be eligible, having just moved into his three-window office, Nick lobbied for two junior people to share the corner office instead of letting it be assigned to Jason. If Jason had moved into the corner office, Nick would have experienced extreme office envy, even though Jason certainly merited the corner office, and even though Jason was quite happy where he was.
- Envy afflicts most of us only when the person envied truly has something we desire, and maybe not even then. Our connection with reality therefore limits our susceptibility to envy. But Nick is less well connected to reality. He certainly envies those who do have things he wants, but he also envies people whom he merely believes have things he wants, even when they don't — or when he believes they might soon gain something he wants. The problem for Nick is that when someone has something he wants, Nick feels that his view of his own superiority and specialness is under attack. For Nick, the threat is almost existential. He cannot permit anyone to have anything he wants, because that threatens his view of his own position of superiority and privilege. And so, his actions in these situations usually come in the form of attacks, which he views not as aggressive, but defensive.
- Nick's acknowledging Envy afflicts most of us
only when the person envied
truly has something we desire,
and maybe not even thenthis pattern of aggression would present difficulties for maintaining his belief in his superiority unless he believed that his feelings of envy were commonplace. And so, he adopts the position that everyone envies others intensely, but only he has the strength and skill and courage to do anything about it. Everyone else is a wimp.
- Organizational risks
- Broken relationships and toxic conflict tend to accompany Nick wherever he goes. These are high costs for organizations that depend on effective teamwork. As Nick rises in the organization, though, the costs tend to escalate, because the toxicity of the conflict moves from the individual scale to the scale of the units Nick leads. What he envies changes from personal attributes to organizational attributes — number of employees, size of budget, total value of acquisitions, and so on. One department might find itself at war with another, one division with another, or one entire corporation with another. Units that had long histories of effective collaboration suddenly cannot cooperate. Reorganizations and terminations seem to be the only paths to resolution, and they do help, temporarily, but if they leave Nick in place, the pattern repeats.
- Coping tactics
- Envy is an emotion that's difficult to detect in others. Instead of trying to recognize narcissistic envy, be attentive to its consequences. The presence of toxic conflict is one possible indicator.
- As Nick's supervisor, toxic conflict within your organization might not appear to center around Nick, even though Nick's intense feelings of envy might be among the causes. Objections to your decisions might seem to be based on conventional values, but look behind the professed arguments to see if envy might be involved. For example, to test objections based on fairness, seek opinions about solutions that are unfair but which do address feelings of envy. If people find such solutions appealing, fairness might not have been the real objection.
- As Nick's co-worker, be aware that any success you achieve, or any material benefit you gain, increases the probability of Nick attacking you. Attacks might directly target the emblems of status, or they might be indirect — name-calling, character assassination, rumormongering, and so on. Appealing to management for intervention will likely be fruitless, unless management was genuinely unaware of Nick's behavior. Counterattack is an option if you have the stomach for it, and the skill, but remember, Nick is likely very skilled, and has probably chosen the timing and content of his attacks to his own advantage.
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? rbrenEAmhEBNDKyTnRvLMner@ChacPcCJwbHSNrfufcVdoCanyon.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:
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- Guidelines for Delegation
- Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the
people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.
- Why There Are Pet Projects
- Pet projects are common in organizations, including organizations with healthy and mature planning processes.
They usually consume resources at levels beyond what the organization intends, which raises the question
of their genesis: Where do pet projects come from?
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion,
but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
- The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I
- Organizational processes can get so complicated that nobody actually knows how they work. If getting
something done takes too long, the organization can't lead its markets, or even catch up to the leaders.
Why does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 26: Congruent Decision-Making: I
- Decision-makers who rely on incomplete or biased information are more likely to make faulty decisions. Congruent decision-making can limit the incidence of bad decisions. Available here and by RSS on September 26.
- And on October 3: Congruent Decision-Making: II
- Decision-makers who rely on incomplete or biased information are more likely to make decisions that don't fit the reality of their organizations. Here's Part II of a framework for making decisions that fit. Available here and by RSS on October 3.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenPpNFlJCwArRHjfiyner@ChacQqOPefyVchGksHXKoCanyon.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
- 10 Non-Technical Phenomena That Lead to Technical Debt
- When organizations set about gaining control of their accumulated and newly incurring technical debt, a common error of thinking is that the problem can be addressed by modifying their technical processes alone. That can be effective in cases in which the causes of technical debt are found only in the engineering and IT organizations. But those cases are rare. This program surveys ten examples of organizational phenomena that lead to technical debt and which are not restricted to the engineering or IT organizations. Indeed, many of these phenomena cannot be found in the engineering or IT organizations, or if found there, they have relatively small effects on technical debt. For each of the ten phenomena, we describe how it leads to technical debt formation or persistence, and what can be done to mitigate its effects. Most important, we explain how effective control of technical debt requires contributions from a broad array of organizational roles. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- 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.