Team management

12 April 2022

4 min.

Narcissistic personalities in the workplace: how to manage them?

We have all more or less heard of “narcissistic personalities“, even if we don’t have a clear definition of what they are, or if we have a set idea of what they are… which may not be accurate!

What exactly does narcissism mean? And how does narcissism manifest itself in our professional lives?

Not only is it fundamental to understand this — the impact of a narcissistic personality on the work climate and psychological safety within a team can be considerable — but it is also important to grasp the distinction between transient, “normal” narcissistic behaviours (which we can all engage in from time to time) and those that are present all the time and therefore unhealthy.

Let’s explore this together!

What is narcissism?

Basically, it is a tendency for a person to be self-centered, to consider things as their due, coupled with a need for recognition and validation. This tendency is usually also associated with a high level of self-confidence, openly demonstrated, as well as a strong sense of ambition.

In short, it’s a behaviour that we’ve all seen before… or that we’ve exhibited ourselves.

While some individuals may be more likely to exhibit narcissistic behaviours, it is likely that everyone has exhibited them to a greater or lesser degree at some point in their lives… just think of adolescence, where ongoing brain development can exacerbate these types of behaviours!

However, depending on when and how these narcissistic behaviours occur, we can consider whether they are healthy or unhealthy. And it is this nuance that makes all the difference!

Beware of confusion!

When the nuance is misunderstood, the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviours can be confusing. Is our colleague exhibiting narcissism or simply high self-confidence? There are some clues that can help us sort this out.

Indeed, it is not unhealthy as such to show a lot of ambition and pride in your own achievements, if however:

  • You do it without overshadowing others
  • You allow room for the opinions of others in your collaborations
  • You communicate charismatically while listening as well
  • You receive constructive feedback with grace
  • You ask others to achieve ambitious goals, but do so with kindness

On the other hand, we can talk about unhealthy narcissistic behaviour in someone who:

  • Demands attention and recognition at all times
  • Positions themselves as an expert on most subjects while ignoring the input of others
  • Responds very poorly to criticism and is unable to admit mistakes
  • Takes credit for the work of others or uses it to achieve their own ends
  • Demonstrates excessive preoccupation with status and arrogance toward those who are not “high profile”

By taking the time to observe our own behaviour or that of our colleagues, it is easier to identify patterns and better understand whether they are healthy or unhealthy narcissistic behaviours.

How to deal with narcissistic personalities?

When dealing with a narcissistic personality, it is important to take action as the behaviours demonstrated can negatively influence team collaboration and performance. As mentioned earlier, simply observing what is going on can provide insight into the tactics at work and help protect against them.

To maintain resilience and not get caught up in the game of someone who feeds off the reactions of others in an attempt to increase their control, it is good to remember to:

  • Stay calm, regardless of the other person’s reactions
  • Remain concise in your interactions with the other person
  • Rephrase what the other person is saying to demonstrate that you are listening and establish a common understanding
  • Call on your HR manager or your manager if the situation becomes such that you receive or witness threats or humiliation from the other person
  • Respect your limits and take care of yourself!

By being vigilant and choosing smart responses, the negative impacts of narcissistic behaviours in the workplace can be demonstrably reduced, which in turn creates a psychologically safe atmosphere where everyone can be their best!

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