Have you ever had to work with or manage someone who you felt like you had to tread on eggshells when they were around?
Someone who’s your best buddy one minute but the next, they’re writing a ten-page manifesto on how you are personally trying to ruin their life when you relay an update from management on new desk arrangements.
Someone who always seems to “have it the worst”, but no one’s really sure how or where the idea came from.
If you have, you’re probably familiar with the modus operandi of the narcissist in the workplace.
How do I know who is a narcissist at work?
In my last blog post, we explored what narcissism means (in a workplace context), how people with narcissistic tendencies often present as an asset to the company at first and went over some environmental indicators that could mean you have a narcissist (or two!) at large.
Once again, I am not advocating for you to go away and diagnose your colleagues with a case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is a mental condition, so it can only be formally diagnosed by a psychiatric professional.
However, it can be helpful to know what certain types of narcissistic behaviour can look like in the workplace. Such behaviours can often be highly disruptive, and in some cases, downright destructive to a happy, healthy working environment.
Identifying the behaviours and understanding the how’s, what’s, and why’s is an important step in counteracting the toxic effects of a narcissistic colleague.
1. “All fight, no insight”
Just because you believe on a cellular level that the world revolves around you, doesn’t mean you’re not smart.
People with NPD or those who display narcissistic traits are often very intelligent but terminally lacking in insight. In the right circumstances, they will throw their entire intellectual weight behind arguing a point that (if they were able to take a step back from it) either makes absolutely no sense or is sort of… pointless.
Don’t confuse this as someone sticking up for themselves or feeling intensely about something that’s happened to them. When it’s a narcissist, this level of reaction is a common occurrence and may occur whenever someone challenges their worldview.
The “fight” in “all fight, no insight” refers to the ferocity with which a narcissistic person defends the hill they’ve chosen to die on. We’re talking saga-length emails in response to something that may very well be totally out of your hands.
This can be a tremendous drain on resources – especially if you’re trying to implement change. You may feel like you need someone permanently on the payroll just to respond to their arguments.
A narcissist can be relentless when it comes to petty arguments, and they’re not to be underestimated.
2. “The Twist”
A narcissistic person cannot accept any blame or attribute anything negative to themselves. Instead, they project onto other people to protect their fragile sense of self.
They often like to play the victim or wronged party. If they know they’re being deceptive, disruptive, or otherwise cruel, they may accuse someone else of exhibiting those same behaviours. They do “the twist”.
In a workplace, the effects of “the twist” can cause serious damage. Apart from contributing to an unhealthy workspace for your staff, if you happen to draw the ire of the narcissist, it can cause psychological harm. It might even bankrupt a business – a wrongful dismissal case is no joke!
Now to qualify as a narcissistic trait, this has to be a pattern of behaviour. If someone comes to you and says, “I’m being bullied in the workplace”, the best approach is to accept their perspective and investigate the claim sensitively. However, if it’s the fourth or fifth time you’ve heard this claim, perhaps it’s time to ask who’s really bullying who.
3. Look out for their “Flying Monkeys”
One of the savvier ways to spot a narcissist in the workplace is to notice who surrounds them. Like the wicked witch in Wizard of Oz, they may just have a flock of flying monkeys on hand to do their dirty work.
Narcissists tend to surround themselves with loyal defenders to compensate for their insecurity and soothe their egos. In the work environment, they will develop a close relationship with someone and begin to cultivate a sense of indignation on their behalf.
If a narcissist has a problem with a managerial decision, for example, they may play up their displeasure to their flying monkeys. “It’s awful what they’re doing to me, don’t you think?” they might ask, and right on cue, their flying monkeys are up in arms ready to fly out the window and defend them.
When a narcissist has a problem with you, you’re more likely to hear about it from one of their flunkies. “It’s not right, the way you’re treating them!” the monkey might say, but if pressed or presented with a different viewpoint, they may not know exactly why themselves.
How to deal with a narcissist at work
When it comes to assembling a team of individuals in a work environment, there will always be disagreements, moments of tension, and folks who just don’t get along.
An office, factory, or other working environment can put people under intense stress and scrutiny. You’re asking people to change and adapt all the time, and it’s not like you can leave your personality at the door.
That’s even more reason to be especially aware of narcissistic behaviours, which can cause untold damage to a business and the people who are part of it. Check out next month’s blog post, where we’ll be exploring strategies to neutralise, counteract, and effectively manage a narcissist.
If you recognise any of these challenging behaviours in your workplace or the people you manage, you can take action to resolve them. Give me a call on 07701 026144 or contact me via email@example.com and let’s discuss how you and your team might be better supported.