Narcissist, egomaniac, boaster - call it what you will. We’ve all worked under one, with one or mentored one. No workplace is immune to the self-absorbed and self-important employee.
We’re bringing in opinions, experience, and tools to avoid being derailed by such behavior no matter what angle the ego might be coming from.
Let’s first define a narcissist.
Psychologists define narcissism as a toxic personality syndrome defined by grandiosity, need for affirmation, and poor empathy for others. But developmentally, not all narcissists are created equal. Primary narcissists are what we often call “spoiled”. It’s likely that they had parents who worshiped the ground they walked on, lavished them with exaggerated and inflated praise, and failed to offer honest and balanced assessments of their child’s attributes and performance. On the other hand, compensatory narcissists were children who may have suffered significant emotional abuse or neglect at the hands of parents. To counteract real despair and self-loathing, these children found solace in grandiose fantasy. Although this narcissistic compensation offers an effective escape from emotional pain in childhood, by adolescence and young adulthood the narcissistic behavior has become calcified and dysfunctional (Brad Johnson David G. Smith, "How to Mentor a Narcissist”, 2017).
If mentorship is the angle we are approaching, is it even possible to mentor a narcissist? According to a Harvard Business Review Article titled “How to Mentor a Narcissist,” the authors break down this task through an empathetic lens. Here are their tips.
- Try to check any dislike of your mentee at the door.
- Listen and discern. It is important to understanding how and why the narcissist feels unworthy at their core.
- Begin with mirroring. By mirroring back unconditional respect and acceptance of the narcissist, you might just lower defenses, thereby opening the door to some dialogue and self-awareness.
- Rather than directly confronting a mentee’s narcissistic behavior, try dispassionate Socratic questioning. If they complain that other people don’t respect them, you can ask something like, “I wonder why so many people have that reaction to you?”
- In conflict, lead with how you feel.
- Take care of yourself. Mentoring a narcissist won’t be easy. Caring and empathetic by nature, even the best mentors may feel appalled by the vivid anger and intense dislike a narcissistic mentee can engender.(Brad Johnson David G. Smith, “How to Mentor a Narcissist”, 2017)
Mentoring a narcissist sounds like a daunting task and if it’s one that you have found yourself in, we applaud you! Now for another angle, perhaps one that we are all too familiar with; working under a narcissist.
They are quick to claim credit for others’ achievements and blame colleagues for their own failures. They care only about their own success, and they’re willing to take advantage of others to get what they need. In short, they’re incredibly difficult to work for.
Starting to sound familiar? I thought it best to ask someone all too familiar with this type of boss. So here is what I asked our “expert”.
How did you deal with it?
It depends, typically I remained calm and tried to see through to the facts and important components of each interaction. Egomaniacs want to control everything and most often have little regard for others opinions unless they are in line with their own. Power and control are usually part of the equation. An Egomaniac loves to flex their dominance whenever possible. Humility, honesty, and being over competent in your role are a good foundation to stand on.
What did it teach you?
Be kind, be fair, be open and honest. Understanding people's need and their personal priorities can help you be a better teammate and a better leader. People want to feel like they are a part of something, and they want to contribute to the overall success. Checking your ego at the door can allow everyone to work in a safe non-toxic environment.
Welp, I feel good about that!
Egomaniacs are unavoidable. Although you don’t have control over someone else and their behavior, you do have control of the way in which you react to a given situation. With that said, there is one more angle we didn’t touch on…self-ego - "Check it at the door”. We are excited to expand upon this idea of self-ego and how it can affect a workplace.
We’re turning the tables here. If you’re interested, join us March 20th with Cy Wakeman to add another angle to your lens.
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