Are you working with a Narcissist?

I have written many articles about Imposter Syndrome and I am absolutely determined that we don’t attach this label to ourselves because it’s the latest buzzword. So many men and women are appearing in my therapy room telling me they have imposter syndrome because they feel out of their depth due to over promotion or lack of experience and can’t do what is being asked of them. Whilst elements of this have roots in imposter syndrome, I believe that many of the people are misdiagnosing it because its prevalence in the media. They are more likely to be feeling the effects of limiting beliefs formed in childhood such as ‘I’m an outsider’ or ‘I don’t belong’ rather than the fear of being found out as a fraud.

There is also a more silent contributor to the misdiagnosis of imposter syndrome, and one that I have felt the effects of in the past, though looking back, I had no idea what I was dealing with. I felt helpless at times, often useless and looking back I realise I was more than capable. I’m talking about narcissism, and if think you might be working for or with a narc, you will benefit from this blog.

Narcissism in the workplace is a challenging issue that can have a detrimental effect on the performance of the organisation. If you are currently thinking about a person who takes lots a selfies and likes to catch their reflection in the glass panes of the office, you’ll be looking in the wrong place. Narcs in the workplace are more likely to engage in counter-productive behaviour and will most certainly believe themselves to be superior to others, have an inflated sense of their own value and an inherent need for deep admiration which is largely driven by profound insecurity. The latter point is worth noting. A true narcissist has a personality disorder, one that is difficult to treat. Whilst the non-narc might be left mouth open and wide-eyed at the behaviours displayed by the narcissist, the narc won’t even bat an eyelid because they genuinely don’t realise what how they think, act and behave is anything less than normal.

The other challenge we have is that there are many people who display narcissistic traits which they have picked up from true narcs. Like most things, there is a spectrum. This narcissistic culture exists when a significant leadership role in an organisation is assumed by a Narc. Corporate narcissism is then created.

So how do you know if you have a Narc in your midst?

All smiles & no action
Narcissists are wonderful at connecting with and convincing people to buy. They make great first impressions and are initially extremely likeable. Sadly they often lack the follow through to ensure a job or service is done well. They will miss deadlines and break promises and will be highly skilled at apportioning the blame to others. ‘It’s your fault this went wrong because you didn’t provide the document I needed.’

Me, me and more me
A narc will think nothing of hogging the whole conversation with tales of how amazing they are. They will show little or zero interest in anybody else, unless it is to criticise or pass judgement on others. They often have a fondness of the sound of their voice and if you change the subject, you’ll find it won’t be long before they have managed to turn the spotlight back on to themselves once again.

Listen to undermine
When the narcissist does allow you to lead the conversation or allow a group to discuss topics, you will find that they are generally looking for that opportunity to throw in a put down or destructive challenge into the conversation. This is equally prevalent in group and one to one conversation, particularly if progress is being made or the discussion is positive especially when they don’t feel they are responsible for that positivity or progress.

Pilfering your ideas
If you have a great idea, be careful how much of it you share with a narc. Many are experts at stealing the credit for a job well done and I’ve heard it from many of my clients that they do great work, feel really proud and then feel deflated when the narc takes the recognition.

Revelling in toxicity
Many narcissists get kicks from creating toxic situations in the workplace. Stirring up negative emotions helps them to feel the sense of grandiose they believe they are entitled to. It provides the narc with power. They aim to make you feel inferior in order to boost their false sense of self and will revel in criticising you if you react. It’s important to them that they feel superior but they will sometimes take an inferior position in order to influence you and get what they want.

Operating in a silo
Narcissists are often lone-wolves and are very likely to pursue their own agenda and make decisions without consulting colleagues. They don’t work very effectively in teams unless they are running the show and they are adept at manipulating those around them to champion and support their behaviour.

If you find yourself working for or alongside a narcissist there are a few things you can do to make it easier for you and other colleagues who may have the same challenges. Be aware of how often you adopt the narcissistic behaviours too. It can be contagious.

Experimenting with your approach is a good way of testing what works when responding to the Narcissist.

• Avoidance – how you can avoid/minimise interactions with them? Not working late, being busy elsewhere (face to face/email/phone/text), not dropping by to see them

• Accommodation – don’t feed their narcissistic needs, managing your response by accepting their behaviours and failing to rise to or acknowledge it.

• Collaboration – sometimes it’s wise to openly or covertly, use their narcissistic tendencies to achieve what you need, whilst letting them have their moment too. This works well when focused on specific events/actions such as letting them take the credit or seeking their input and views early to shape proposals.

• Assertive competition – this a brave one. Call out discrepancies openly to the narcissist. Re-claim the idea they’ve stolen, challenge the undermining comments and negatives.

• Compromise – being clear what you must have and being able to let go of anything else without it feeling detrimental to you. Always aim to get them to feel they are getting their way don’t count as a loss

Finally, be sure to build alliances – if they are like it with you, are they like it with others? Can you start to build some alliances for your sanity (and to get things done?). The caution is that if the culture has become narcissistic, they may well see it as an opportunity to feed their tendencies and score points with colleagues and against you. Talk to people outside work, it’s most likely to be them not you and your supporters will tell you this (the really good ones will tell you when it is you too…)