INFOGRAPHIC: 15 Tips for Handling Narcissistic Colleagues

| By Terence Brake

Narcissism is a hot topic, for reasons I won’t get into.  I’ve certainly known people with narcissistic tendencies both at work (not among my current colleagues, I should add) and among my friends and family. 

One of my relatives would really have been fun to get to know and learn from.  He was a larger than life character whose personal stories were astounding.  When he would tell you of his aircrew experiences in the Second World War - in both Europe and the Pacific - or those from later in his life as a successful lawyer and judge in California, you were riveted.  There is no doubt that he could have been a great mentor and friend, but unfortunately it was very hard to learn from him because he didn’t really see or hear you.  If you tried to tell him anything about your own life, he would immediately turn the spotlight back onto himself with a story you had heard many, many times before.  

We can all exhibit narcissistic behaviors from time to time, and I certainly don’t want to label anyone I’ve known as having a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  Not my place to make a diagnosis, no matter how tempting it might be!  

How to Spot a Narcissist

In the workplace, dealing with toxic narcissistic behaviors can be purgatory, particularly when the person exhibiting those behaviors is your boss.  Narcissism is usually talked about in relation to high-level managers, but narcissistic behaviors can be demonstrated at all levels.  What kinds of behaviors am I talking about? 

  • Demonstrating a grandiose sense of self-importance, arrogance
  • Lashing out at others when their self-esteem seems threatened, even in small ways
  • Deflecting blame onto others even if it means lying 
  • Always needing to be the center of attention (and demanding excessive admiration) for being ‘special’, ‘unique’, ‘brilliant’
  • Bragging and demanding excessive admiration
  • Dismissing other people’s experiences as worthless or irrelevant
  • Demonstrating a strong sense of entitlement
  • Having preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power
  • Being demeaning to others who could take attention away from them
  • Always being suspicious of other people’s motives
  • Projecting onto others their own typically cynical view of the world
  • Lying, cheating, manipulating, bullying, and exploiting to get what they want
  • Making important decisions without thinking about the costs or consequences to others
  • Excessive need to be in control of situations
  • Unfounded confidence

I could go on, but you get the picture.  Those exhibiting such behaviors can be very charming and funny, but also highly volatile if their desperate thirst for affirmation is not being quenched.

I know that I have exhibited some of these behaviors at different times.  I think we all have - or maybe that’s my own narcissism talking! Freud saw narcissism as essential to normal human development, and some psychologists talk of healthy narcissism; a type that enables us to have real feelings of self-esteem and a desire to change the world, while still being able to engage and share in the emotional lives of others.  

Whatever the roots of unhealthy narcissism are – a spoiled childhood, dependence on parents and inadequately developed sense of personal responsibility, or compensation for a lonely and deprived childhood – the consequences can be harmful to others (e.g. lower self-worth and burnout) and to the organization (e.g. irrational decision-making and excessive turnover).  What can we do to not feel helpless in the face of such behaviors?

15 Tips for Managing Narcissists

Of all the types of people I have worked with in my career, those who behave narcissistically are the most difficult.  Never allow yourself to feel helpless or abused.  You always have choices, even if at times you feel you don’t.  

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