How to Deal with the Office Narcissist

Last Updated Mar 3, 2010 11:34 AM EST

Does business attract narcissists? Poets might be known for their higher than average incidence of depression, but the world of business is famous for attracting those with another sort of psychological disorder; "psychologists have studied narcissistic traits in actors, chief executives and politicians, where such tendencies are all but built into the job description," reports the NY Times.

What exactly is narcissism? According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the diagnosis involves, "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration and lack of empathy... a grandiose sense of self-importance."

Of course, most cubicle dwellers are normal, empathetic people, but your chances of running into a narcissist is probably higher among high achieving business leaders than, say, at a convention of dentists or pre-school teachers. So how do you handle a narcissistic colleague or client when you meet one? A blog post by on Web Worker Daily offers five tips from Connie Dieken, author of the book Talk Less, Say More:

  • Give them options. Beneath their bluster, narcissistic people fear being left out of the loop. They crave control. It's far better to offer them options to choose from, rather than feeding them ready-made decisions. They'll tear other people's decisions to shreds. Giving them options helps them feel respected and in control. It also prevents nasty hissy fits.
  • Focus on solutions, not problems. When you explain a problem or a challenge to a narcissist, direct their attention to the solution. Don't allow them to dissect the problem over and over again. Narcissists love drama and revel in the chaos. They're easily agitated when frustrated. Define problems and present possible solutions, so they don't smell blood in the water and tear you apart.
  • Make them the hero. Narcissists are preoccupied with power and truly believe they are special and unique. They live for attention and admiration. Want them to do something? Tell them how great they are at it and watch them perform. Better yet, praise their performance in front of others. Just keep it real, please.
  • Let them think it's their idea. Narcissists often steal the credit for ideas that aren't theirs. Why do they do that? Strangely, they truly believe that hijacked results are their own. Grabbing credit is a driving force for them. If this gets things done, I say learn to live with it. Over time, everyone will catch on -- wink, wink. Meantime, graciously transferring credit for ideas to them makes things happen.
  • Manage their emotional blind spot. Egomaniacs lack empathy. They're so caught up in their own world that it doesn't occur to them to consider your feelings or viewpoints. It's a huge blind spot. You must put your own feelings on the table, if you choose to do so. Just be smart about sharing feelings with a narcissist. Brace yourself for the guilt trips and disparaging criticism that narcissists often dole out when others explain how they feel.
(Narcissism image by helgasms!, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.