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How to manage a narcissist

by Sarah Harding - Principal Consultant (IT), The Talent Hive

With selfies and social media comes claims that Millennials are being bitten by the narcissism bug. In the US, diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have risen sharply over the past 10 years. Narcissistic personality traits have risen as much as obesity rates in the last 30 years with fears that the disorder could now be evolving into a phenomenon.

So, if narcissism is on the rise, what does this mean for the workplace. If everyone in the office views themselves as superior, it’s only a matter of time before teamwork suffers and managers struggle to get the best from their employees.

Narcissists themselves can suffer in the workplace as a result of their skewed view of themselves. As Dr. Thomas Gutheil, a senior professor at Harvard Medical School, has pointed out:

“Narcissism can be deadly for a person’s career. With their sense of entitlement, narcissists frequently become embroiled in career damaging workplace conflicts and have problems fulfilling their potential.”

So how can you recognise and successfully manage narcissists in your workplace? The first step is learning how to recognise narcissistic traits, ideally at the hiring stage.

Spotting a Narcissist

There are several traits that narcissists are likely to display in the workplace:

  • A tendency to exaggerate accomplishments

  • A tendency to criticise former colleagues in order to show their own superiority

  • Interested only in what a position will do for them rather than what they can do for the organisation

  • Pushing for special treatment and benefits that don’t normally go with the position that you are offering

  • Refusing to cooperate or flying into a rage when teammates fail to recognise the brilliance of their ideas and work

Managing a Narcissist

Struggling? Here are five steps to successfully handling a narcissist in the office

  1. Narcissists love to be associated with people of higher status, and as a person in a higher-status position, you can use this to your advantage. Ensure that you command the respect your job role merits, and keep your distance. Let them know that your actions are directly supported by your bosses and senior executives, and name them. Impressed by your status, they’re more likely to respect your ideas, suggestions and instructions.

  2. Protect yourself, your own efforts, and recognise the work of others. Narcissists are often keen to claim the responsibility and praise when things are going well. Make sure that you get to know who truly deserves credit for successful projects and results. By rewarding cooperation and teamwork more than individual work in your assessment processes, you can help foster a fairer, more relaxed atmosphere.

  3. Narcissists consider few people their equals, so they tend to be poor team players. It’s often impossible to avoid teamwork in the workplace. So, if you do require them to work as part of a team, try to get them together with people you know they respect, admire or consider high status.

  4. Another narcissist’s trait is to ask you to bend the rules a bit for them, ask for special favours, etc. Don’t. The more you cave, the more you risk favouring them over other team members. Play by the rules and stand firm.

  5. Remember that no one succeeds alone. Whatever the company scale and whatever your industry, working as a team is what lies behind real success. It’s easy to forget the importance of group effort in today’s self-promotional and competitive world.


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