GRANDIOSITY, a lack of empathy and desire for admiration – most of us have endured an experience of people with narcissistic traits.
All of us are somewhere on the narcissism spectrum – in the healthy zone, others advanced, and some in the extreme psychopathy territory.
Narcissism is linked with pride which Augustine tells us: “turns angels into devils”.
I am wary of calling anyone a narcissist, nor am I qualified to label anyone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder – even experts have difficulty in this area.
But unhealthy trait narcissism is something healthy organisations need to be aware of and defend against.
In the workplace narcissism is counterproductive.
Sabotage, interpersonal aggression, damaging morale, theft, and spreading rumours are not conducive to a team environment.
Mirror men and mirror women also have trouble receiving critical performance reviews or 360-degree feedback.
Other narcissistic traits you may have seen include:
- charming first impressions, particularly if they are looking for a contract.
- but once deeds are signed the charm drops.
- their sense of urgency is far greater than others.
- enough about you, let’s talk about me.
- failure to apologise; nor do they have an appropriate consideration of others.
- feigned sympathy if it is advantageous to them.
- wanting people to supply them with constant praise; however, if you as ‘supplier’ withdraws this constant praise, watch out.
- if they serve God it is usually as an adviser.
Reporters often label Facebook users as narcissistic but there needs to be some caution here.
Posting on Facebook and other social media is now part of standard business networking.
Recently Oxford University refused to take a prospective scholars’ resume stating they now review social media profiles, not resumes.
People managers also look to see if future employees have active LinkedIn profiles as part of their selection process.
Putting social media discussions aside, if you are working with people with destructive narcissistic traits it is difficult.
It is well-documented people with these traits take credit for your work all the while making disparaging remarks about you.
There is also the ongoing boasting and expecting of favours without consideration or return.
If this sounds like your colleague, or your boss, here are a few coping strategies:
- if the person is a colleague and they give you orders clarify directives with your boss, ideally in writing;
- take care of your self-esteem;
- if they make a disparaging remark about you briefly state you do not agree–try to avoid getting into an argument as it often leads to retaliation attacks;
- if possible, avoid sharing ideas with people who take credit for your work until you have told your supervisor and team in writing;
- ignore their boasting;
- do not ask for favours from this person or borrow from them;
- utilise your organisation’s employee assistance program;
- praise a lot of people.
This is a pretty long list, there are even longer ones in psychology and workplace journals.
People write about narcissism because it stymie’s productive workplaces. Organisations need to be cautious of narcissistic traits, particularly if it is purported by their chief executive officer as this behaviour can bring down the whole organisation. For Catholics, it is important to remember where we stand: we are not here to judge someone’s personhood; rather, to forgive and pray for them.
It also helps to keep a sense of humour.
There are a few websites with amusing observations such as: “How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “None, why would they do such a menial task when others can do it.” Servant leadership is not their highest priority.
It may also help to realise in some circumstances people do not realise their behaviour is a problem.
Furthermore, their inability to form true caring bonds can leave them with a sense of emptiness.
In 2013 Pope Francis spoke on the issue of clerical narcissism. His advice for clerics is pertinent to all of us not wanting to fall into pride, “Pray and be involved in acts of service”.
I now take the liberty of clarifying the Pontiff’s message further in saying “self (aggrandising)-service” is probably not the service he had in mind. Humility and good boundaries are the answer.