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Recognizing and Addressing Narcissism in the Workplace

February 24, 2022

By Susan Chance, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

At some time in our careers, most of us will run into at least one narcissist in the workplace, and we can cross paths with such people in our personal lives as well. It’s important to be able to recognize narcissists in the workplace and know how to address them.

There are six types of narcissists:

  1. Toxic – this type is severe and will create drama and even “pain and destruction”. As a co-worker, this is the type of person who will go to the level of getting someone fired from their job.
  2. Psychopathic – the type is not stable, is very aggressive, and is without remorse. Thankfully, most of us will not run into this type of narcissist.
  3. Closet – this type’s characteristics run from entitlement, needing constant admiration, jealously of others, and not having empathy for other people, but are not necessarily obvious with their behaviors.
  4. Exhibitionist – this type is “often haughty and arrogant”, and they have a need to be the center of attention.
  5. Bully – this type makes themselves feel big by making others feel small. They talk and gossip about others, make fun of people, and will make threats to get what they want. This type of person gets pleasure out of causing pain for others.
  6. Seducer – this type will build you up to get what they want, and when they no longer need you, will walk away.

I have worked with the Toxic, Closet, Exhibitionist, and Bully in the past. None of them are pleasant, and they can do a lot of damage to teams and overall morale. Psychology Today lists the following narcissistic behaviors:

  • Takes credit for your hard work
  • Gives you backhanded compliments
  • Ridicules you in front of your coworkers
  • Blames everything on you
  • Knows your weak spot and exploits it
  • Actively tries to get you demoted or fired
  • Lies to get ahead
  • Seems to compete with everyone to be “the best” at work
  • Spreads gossip about you, and denies doing it when you confront them
  • Sabotages your work
  • Pressures you to do something unethical
  • Gets jealous of your accomplishments instead of congratulating you

They also offer advice for dealing with these people in the workplace:

  1. Get it in writing – email works great for this.
  2. Don’t fight – a narcissist will push your buttons to get you to react in a negative way; walk away.
  3. It is not personal – their behavior, even if directed at you, is not about you, it is about their insecurity.
  4. Don’t get personal with a narcissist – they will use the information against you, even twisting the narrative for their own purposes.
  5. Have a witness – if a narcissist wants to have a private conversation with you, don’t do it. Make sure you have someone with you who can be a witness.
  6. Avoid contact – if you can’t avoid the person, stick to facts when dealing with them.
  7. Know your legal rights – this is very important when the narcissist is your boss. The EEOC can provide information on your rights in the workplace.

Dealing with narcissists in the workplace can be challenging because these people are often high-functioning and able to lead others to get things done. If you work with a narcissist, be aware of their traits, take the necessary precautions in dealing with them, and if it comes to it, work with your HR department to handle issues that arise.

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