There is no doubt that a narcissist in the workplace is an unpredictable and often destabilizing force for colleagues, bosses, and underlings. Their arrogant attitude, feelings of superiority, and tendency to blame others for their mistakes make them unpleasant to work with and someone who does make a good team member. But they also frequently will strive to be successful if for no other reason than that they need the praise and adoration that comes with success. That can make them an asset for many businesses, particularly those that reward narcissistic behavior.
Whether a particular narcissist changes jobs frequently depends on the narcissist and job in question. In some jobs, narcissists can be an asset while in others their unpredictable behavior will find them back in the unemployment line quickly. In most jobs, however, they aren’t good team players.
Read on to learn about the ways in which a narcissist might be an asset to a business and why most narcissists can’t seem to get along with their colleagues no matter their skill set. It will help you better understand your narcissistic colleagues and why they often can’t seem to keep a job.
How Does the Narcissist Act in the Workplace?
As Todd Skyler, an attorney who specializes in NPD, points out, “How narcissists are apt to act when they start new jobs is fairly consistent.” They come into a job viewing it in the same way they did in high school. They want to hang with the “cool kids,” but they lack the social skills to make it work in the long run.
They can charm their way into the job, but they frequently try too hard to be accepted and recognized by their colleagues. They will usually idealize those in their office whom they perceive as popular colleagues, but they have no respect for personal or professional boundaries.
That usually results in problems since workplace relationships typically end badly. Still, the arrogant narcissist won’t let anyone tell them what they have to do, and so, they throw caution to the wind. Before long, those relationships experience conflict which triggers the narcissist into acting in defiance of their own best interests.
As you might imagine, this is a veritable recipe for disaster, and it’s what makes the narcissist a terrible team player. They create division and disrupt what might be a normally efficient workplace. They typically will turn to devaluing their colleagues, taking credit for the accomplishments of others, and blaming their coworkers for any mistakes they make.
With this kind of disruption in the workplace, the narcissist’s boss may decide to cut their losses and send the unruly employee packing. But there are cases where a company or supervisor may want or even need the narcissist’s skills.
When is a Narcissist an Asset?
Research has shown that narcissists are perceived as positive leaders as long as their coworkers have fewer opportunities to observe and interact with them. The positive relationship disappears as their underlings have more opportunities to observe them. This gives you an idea of how narcissists are able to function as leaders in their respective organizational settings.
Narcissists often emerge as leaders because of their ability to charm their own supervisors. Additionally, they can be driven by the need to be viewed as successful to hone their skills and perform positively in the workplace. This is particularly true for communal narcissists, who although annoying because they constantly brag about how the workplace would fall apart without them, work hard to help in every situation.
Many narcissists are also willing to take risks and compete to win, and that can get them into leadership positions. They will drive their workers relentlessly because they see their performance as a reflection of their own abilities, but this can mean they get the job done. That’s something upper management likes to see.
Narcissists in the workplace may also admire their own supervisors and aspire to be like them. Toward that end, they will work to please them so they can receive their praise, and that praise often comes with a promotion.
How Should You Manage a Narcissist You Can’t Fire?
When you have a narcissist in your company who is performing well despite conflict with coworkers, you might want to keep them on, but you need to find a way to minimize the conflict. One of the best things you do for that is to try to limit their contact with coworkers.
You can always appeal to the narcissist’s ego by making them feel as though they are special and entitled to work by themselves without distractions from others who don’t perform as well. If they feel as though their working alone is a reward rather than a punishment, that will feed their ego and help them accept that condition.
When they do something good, be sure to praise them exuberantly for their work. This is the narcissistic supply they crave. If you can prevent them from having authority over anyone else, that will be better since they are likely to abuse anyone working under them. You should also always make it clear who is the boss by setting firm boundaries, clear expectations, and enforcing consequences of any violations of boundaries or failure to meet those expectations.
It will be particularly important if they must work as part of a team to be clear about the chain of authority. There will be enough interpersonal conflicts because of the narcissist’s personality problems without them believing they have authority over anyone on the team. As the supervisor, you will have to step up and keep that from happening.
What Should Coworkers of Narcissists Do to Minimize Problems?
If you’re the coworker of a narcissist without any authority over them, you’ll need to try and minimize your contact with them. If that’s not possible, the grey rock method is a good tool for making yourself uninteresting to them.
Grey rock means you strive to be an uninteresting grey rock by keeping any interactions with them brief and devoid of personal details or emotional reactions. Don’t share anything about your personal life, likes, or desires because they will use those against you whenever it benefits them. Don’t engage in long conversations with them or show them any emotion as that feeds into their mental disorder.
Keep yourself as uninteresting as possible so that they don’t find any benefit in interacting with you. If they are your supervisor, be sure you understand your rights, document every interaction in writing, try to have witnesses to those interactions, and do your job to the best of your ability. You’ll have to swallow your pride because they will take the credit for your hard work.
Many narcissists do change jobs frequently, but some are able to perform well because of their need for adoration and admiration. They want people to see them as successful, and they can do a good job toward that end. They are not, however, good coworkers. They will take credit for other people’s work, devalue and criticize their colleagues, and blame other people for their mistakes.
This is often why many supervisors will ultimately let them go, but if they are exceptional at their job, they might keep them on and even encourage their behavior. For coworkers, the best option is to be as uninteresting as possible to the narcissist, but supervisors need to make it clear who’s in charge. That will make everyone’s life a lot easier when dealing with the workplace narcissist.
Now that you have a better understanding of how narcissists often behave in the workplace, you’ve got to check out this article about how to identify a narcissist with three simple questions. This is particularly critical for identifying narcissists during the hiring process.
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