Thursday, August 16, 2007

Narcissism in the Workplace

First, let me say that I've never heard so many horrible workplace stories within a three hour period. So if your workplace is freaking out today, you are not alone. I claim it's a sign of Dog Days of August.

Onward to horrible workplace issue #1: The Narcissistic Boss. Boy there are a lot of narcissistic bosses. We reward narcissism in the United States, and we reward it greatly. The worse you act, the more brilliant we think you are and the more likely you are to be promoted. Not across the board, mind you, but CEOs tend to be narcissists.

Sam Vaknin is pretty much the narcissism in the workplace expert. He's not a doctor or therapist, but when I had a narcissistic boss, I found his suggestions invaluable. One of the most important things about understanding narcissists is that you, yes you, need to change your own behavior in terms of how you relate to them. Here are Vaknin's tips for dealing with narcissism in the workplace:

  • Never disagree with the narcissist or contradict him.
  • Never offer him any intimacy. You are not his equal and an offer of intimacy insultingly implies that you are.
  • Look awed by whatever attribute matters to him (for instance: by his professional achievements or by his good looks, or by his success with women and so on).
  • Never remind him of life outside his bubble and if you do, connect it somehow to his sense of grandiosity. Do not make any comment, which might directly or indirectly impinge on his self-image, omnipotence, judgement, omniscience, skills, capabilities, professional record, or even omnipresence.
  • Bad sentences start with "I think you overlooked..." "I think you made a mistake here..." "You don't know..." "You were not here yesterday so..." "You cannot... "You should...." These are perceived as rude impositions. Narcissists react very badly to restrictions placed on their freedom.
Is it moral to change your behavior? Is this manipulative? I've become very practical in workplace issues. Your goal is to survive the workday. If these techniques help you to deal with narcissists, please use them.