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Culture Change

Tricky Characters

Chris Harrison

February 8, 2024

Last week we touched on the impact of narcissistic behaviours in the workplace. Narcissism is a psychological descriptor for a selfish person who craves admiration but lacks empathy with others. It manifests itself in four forms

●      Grandiose Narcissists- charming master manipulators.

●      Social Narcissists - craving peer group attention.

●      Vulnerable Narcissists - hypersensitive, negative and adept at blaming others.  

●      Malignant Narcissists - careless about destroying the prospects of others.

The first two can create positive effects in the workplace, for example by putting forward bold initiatives or making sure that colleagues are supported. But the darker side of Narcissism requires a tougher approach. Let’s just remind ourselves of some of the behaviours this produces.

People who take credit for the work of others; obsess about status and revel in office politics. Employees who take constructive criticism as a personal attack while spreading negativity; ridiculing their co-workers’ work habits, personal appearance or mannerisms. Pretty horrible, when you see it in black and white.

It’s never easy managing difficult employees but, if you don’t act, they may end up managing you. Begin by keeping communication clear and direct. Removing ambiguities gives Narcissists less room to interpret and manipulate.

Work hard to control your own reactions. Try not to take the behaviours of a Narcissist personally. Not only can that lower your personal stress levels, but it also gives Narcissists less negativity to fuel their desire for drama. Importantly, try not to give into a Narcissist’s demands. Many Narcissists are talented negotiators. They can use charm, guile and intimidation to demand perks or special treatment without fear of reprisal. Require all deals you make with them to be confirmed in writing. Take time to distance yourself, take counsel from colleagues and think things through … before agreeing to terms.

Overall, documentation is a really useful tool. Logging problematic interactions and examples of Narcissism in action can help to keep you sane when dealing with someone whose version of the truth is subject to frequent change. A written record may also enable you to identify patterns and triggers, giving you the basis for a constructive discussion if you decide to arrange counselling or other interventions. Although people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) may seem selfish and superior this often stems from low self-esteem. So, counselling that invites them to reflect on their behaviour and its origins can produce a breakthrough.

Coping with Narcissism at work can be exhausting. But by controlling your reactions and practising a form of empathy rather than knee-jerk responses, you may be able to roll with the positives and mitigate the negatives. Your colleagues will thank you for that.