There may be no ‘I’ in ‘team’, but there is a ‘me’ if you get a little creative, and narcissists will do just about anything to make it about ‘me’.
Narcissism is a behavioural trait that is becoming increasingly understood and recognised. From parents to partners, narcissistic behaviour that goes unchecked in our personal relationships can cause untold emotional harm.
However, a narcissist operating in a professional space can inflict just as much emotional damage. Their actions can also impact the organisation as a whole and derail attempts to change or adapt the business.
In this blog post, we’ll explore what narcissism is in the context of the workplace and begin to identify signs of narcissistic behaviour at work.
What is narcissism in the workplace?
As an independent HR Consultant, I’ve seen my fair share of narcissistic behaviour and how it affects a business.
It’s worth noting that it is never appropriate to assume or ascribe formal diagnoses for an individual within your organisation. This post is about empowering you to recognise behaviours and traits typical of a narcissist. This can help you offer the most effective support to your staff and ensure you adopt a fair and efficient approach to managing challenges.
Narcissism (sometimes referred to as narcissistic personality disorder or NPD) is a mental condition where a person has an exaggerated sense of their own importance. While we’re all the hero of our own story, a narcissist might struggle to understand that ‘other characters’ in their narrative are real, three-dimensional people with their own lives, desires, and challenges.
They may lack empathy for others, enjoy being either the centre of attention or ‘the hero’ of any given situation, and struggle to maintain authentic relationships. Often narcissists are struggling with a very deeply felt sense of inferiority or insecurity and cannot accept any personal failings or faults in themselves.
Understanding how a person who is narcissistic ticks can be very helpful, as their modus operandi is manipulation, projection, and defensiveness.
How narcissists can be a great asset to a company
It may sound counter-intuitive, but someone with narcissistic traits may initially present themselves as having a lot of positive traits, especially in the context of a workplace.
As long as everything is right in their environment, (meaning they feel secure and in control) a narcissist may just be your right-hand person. They’re going to be hard-working, striving to overachieve, and will often step naturally into leadership roles.
In a word: they’re the workplace champion. But it all comes at a cost; the working environment has to be just right for them to thrive, with no challenges to their authority or sense of importance.
Narcissists in the workplace need everything their way
A workplace, much like interpersonal relationships, will always need to change and grow over time. It’s not going to remain in stasis simply because a narcissist prefers the status quo.
Say there’s a departmental reshuffle coming up and people’s roles are changing. Sure, there are going to be folks who aren’t happy with the changes, but they’ll adapt after some time and with attentive, responsive management.
But that tireless, hard-working, gregarious workplace ‘champion’ of yours? They’re not happy, either. And now they’re using their bottomless reserves of energy to fight against you, rather than for you.
Why? Because you didn’t just change their role, you challenged their reality.
What happens if you challenge the reality of a narcissist at work?
Challenging the reality of a narcissist at work starts with a whisper and ends in a roar.
Let’s continue with the reshuffle analogy. A narcissist’s sense of reality is often so impermeable that the ‘challenge’ you’re making won’t even register at first.
Say you were to check in with the narcissist on how they’re feeling about upcoming changes to their role. “All good, no problems here!”, they reply. All seems well, but in the case of a narcissist, their response is positive because they haven’t registered what’s happening.
The role change does not fit with their sense of reality, so they’re just assuming it’s not going to happen. As soon as the narcissist realises that you’re serious, things start to get messy.
This can have far-reaching consequences, especially when the organisation’s vision does not match up with the narcissist’s.
How to tell that someone in your workplace could be a narcissist
While you might have a clear idea of narcissistic behaviours to look out for in individuals, it can also be helpful to recognise certain ‘symptoms’ in the social climate at work, such as:
- A generally unhappy workplace with low morale
- A tendency towards cliquiness, with consistent accusations of bullying or social isolation
- Instances of an individual requesting tense, private ‘chats’ with colleagues but appearing agreeable in group settings
- The sense that managers can’t make reasonable or unavoidable changes without significant resistance
- People walking on eggshells or being overly concerned about upsetting certain members of staff.
Identifying a narcissist can help everyone
This isn’t about starting a witch hunt. If there’s a problem brewing, it’s a manager’s responsibility to properly identify what’s going on.
A narcissist is driven by their compulsion to warp reality around them. Knowing what kind of behaviour you’re dealing with, can help you handle the matter with as fair and measured an approach as possible, minimising damage before it affects certain individuals or the wider team.
Check out the next blog post to discover the three unmistakable behaviours of a narcissist trying to get their own way in the workplace. If you recognise any of these ‘symptoms’ in your work culture or have experienced similar challenges, there are actions you can take to resolve them. Give me a call on 07701 26144 or contact me via email@example.com and let’s discuss how you and your team might be better supported.