How to Deal With a Narcissist at Work – and Why You Need To

The author of The Schmuck in my Office explains how to spot a narcissist

April 11, 2017

Note: This post originally appeared on the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions EMEA Blog.

What is a narcissist? It’s up there as one of the questions that people most frequently type into Google – which rather suggests that there are quite a few self-absorbed people out there, and even more people tearing their hair out wondering how to deal with them. Those people are in luck, because how to deal with narcissists in the workplace is the subject of our latest Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast. And we couldn’t have asked for a better expert to talk us through the process of identifying, defusing, managing and working with this personality type.

Doctor Jody J. Foster MBA has literally written the book on narcissists and the many other essentially disruptive personality types that can leave people dreading Monday mornings. She’s the author of The Schmuck in my Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work, which is published this week and seems absolutely nailed on as a future bestseller. Jody talks through a full range of frustrating, intimidating and disruptive personality types in her book – and she does so with a warmth, humor and deep empathy that’s really compelling. You’ll learn how to identify the Narcissist, but also the Venus Flytrap, the Swindler, the Eccentric, the Robot, The Bean Counter and more. You’ll learn what drives their apparently wantonly destructive (sometimes self-destructive) behavior. And you’ll learn how to help them come to terms with it while limiting the damage they can do to you.

Jody and I had time to talk through three of her favorite personality types, including the Swindler (a colleague on the same personality spectrum as Al Capone) and the Eccentric (inherently odd with deeply funky beliefs that make people uncomfortable). However the bulk of our time was saved for the Narcissist, the many different disguises that he or she might adopt, and the essential tips and tricks for managing them effectively.

Click on the link below to listen to the podcast in full – your sanity at work might just depend on it. Then scroll down for more details of how to identify a narcissist in the workplace – and how to deal with them:

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What is a narcissist and how do people get that way?
It’s important to understand that almost everyone you know (including yourself) has narcissistic tendencies to some degree – and that this is actually quite healthy. Self-confidence, and a belief in your own importance, helps people push themselves forward in their careers. The trouble comes when narcissism flips over to the pathological side. The trigger for this is actually a loss of confidence – a crisis that comes when the innate sense of self-value that most of us are raised with is sent crashing to the ground. Jody describes how the narcissist’s ego is fractured and reduced “to the size of a peanut” as a result. Determined to hide this from the world, they fill the gap by exaggerating the image they hoped to have of themselves to a massive degree. They fill the dichotomy between the image they once had and the reduced sense of worth that they now feel with a load of hot air.

There are different types of narcissist – they could be in disguise!
Narcissists can adopt different subconscious strategies for keeping people away from the scared, reduced core of their ego. And this can make them difficult to identify. We’re all familiar with the concept of the ‘Look at me’ narcissist. There’s a hugely inflated sense of worth, a constant demand for praise, and a massive sense of entitlement. The behavior of this type of narcissist includes exaggerating accomplishments, taking all of the credit for others’ work, overstatement of their abilities and constantly blaming their shortcomings on others. They can be an extremely damaging presence in the workplace – but at least you can usually work out quickly what you’re dealing with.

The second type of narcissist is more insidious – and potentially even more disruptive. This is the narcissist who presents their narcissism to the world as low self-esteem. They complain constantly about being undervalued and hard done by. They hold endless grudges about perceived snubs and being underappreciated. At heart though, they are just as self-centred – and their constant demand for praise can be just as debilitating.

Flattery is the essential starting point for dealing with narcissists
It sounds wrong – as if you’re giving in and encouraging their destructive behavior. However, Jody insists that flattery is a vital first step for disarming the constant anxiety of narcissists, and reducing their inherent feeling of being threatened. Done right, it can enable them to take on constructive criticism, and even to work more effectively as part of a team. If you’re ever in the situation where you have to give constructive feedback to somebody you believe is a narcissist, try to literally sandwich it between two pieces of unmitigated praise. It can play a powerful role in defusing the inherent tension.

Reduce the opportunity for damage – and encourage empathy with others
Little things can make a big difference with narcissists. Jody advises always replying to emails from them as quickly as possible, for example. Why? Because it reduces the length of time for which they might worry that you’re ignoring them, laughing at them behind their back or disparaging their contribution. On a more selfish note, do yourself a favor and try to avoid situations where they can take credit for your work or disparage you. Remember – they’re narcissists, they can’t really help it.

Finally, try to help in filling a gap that all narcissists suffer from – a lack of empathy. These are people that have real and genuine trouble seeing any issue or situation from another’s point of view. Building on the flattery and the reassurance, try to walk them through how their actions might have impacted on others. Remember – this isn’t something that they will be capable of by themselves.

Could you be the narcissist in your office?
Jody’s book closes with a chapter titled Are you the Schmuck in your Office? It’s a question that’s always worth asking yourself, because most of us will identify with at least some of the personality traits in her book – and it’s no different where narcissism is concerned. If you consistently find friction occurring around you, then it’s important to ask yourself whether you are the factor linking it all together. If it turns out you are more of a narcissist than you might feel is healthy, then the same principles that Jody outlines in the podcast can still help. Try to walk yourself through seeing situations from other perspectives; recognise the need for reassurance that you have and try to find more constructive ways to request it. It’s another reason why this edition of the podcast is well worth a listen – and why Jody’s book is well worth a read.

If you’re just discovering us, you can catch up on all the previous episodes of the Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast here. And if you subscribe to the podcast, you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks for tuning in!

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