Many of my Inc. colleagues have written on the topic of psychopathic behaviors. For example, did you know that 1in 5 CEOs are actually psychopaths? How about the 10 professions with the most psychopaths?
But there is a close relative of psychopaths that isn't covered enough and you probably work with one. This personality disorder will wreak havoc at work, and is one of the most difficult personalities you will encounter: The narcissist.
Merriam-Webster defines narcissism as "characterized by extreme self-absorption, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and a need for attention and admiration."
Narcissists, male or female, are toxic and manipulative people who wear masks and fly below your radar. You need to spot them before they destroy morale.
6 Ways to Recognize That You're Working With a Narcissist.
1. They put their needs first. A narcissist doesn't care about the things that matter to his colleagues or subordinates, and will probably get defensive when being confronted, so don't expect an apology. If you see a pattern, address it soon through the proper channels to see how he responds. If that person shows no respect and dignity for your position, consider cutting ties altogether, whatever that means for you.
2. They can't handle emotional challenges. A narcissist may stick around for the good times, because that's low pressure. But as soon as there's a crisis, don't expect him to be there for support or to troubleshoot on your or the team's behalf.. It's too "high maintenance" for him. And that should be a clear signal of things to come. If this is a pattern, consider your options carefully because the behavior won't go away.
3. They will deflect responsibility. When a colleague expresses disappointment with something he said or did, a narcissist will blow that person off, and try to justify his actions or put it on someone else (probably back on you!). It's rare for narcissists to express themselves authentically, speak and be heard without judgement, and take responsibility for what they are creating. This is not a safe professional relationship to be in.
4. They will give you mixed signals. Narcissists will drive you nuts by being hot and cold. One day they're telling colleagues how amazing and smart they are, and the next day they're acting uninvolved, withdrawing, and stonewalling. If these signs keep showing up, run Forrest, run!
5. They are smooth operators who don't walk the talk. A narcissist will charm his way into and out of working relationships to serve his needs, and convince a colleague of going along with him which leads to conflict and brings the whole team down. The antidote to the smooth talker who says all the right things is always to observe and mentally document his actions. Does he follow through? If it's too good to be true, it probably is.
6.They are critical. Narcissists will blame their colleagues or subordinates when something goes wrong, even if it's not based on reality. Nothing is ever good enough for the narcissist. A colleague can try over and over to please him to no avail. After a while, you start censoring yourself and walking on eggshells because you're afraid of his reactions. In your mind, it's easier to take the pain of another blow, and keep the lump in your throat from being swallowed, than dealing with another confrontation.
How to Deal With Them
Trainer and Coach Karlyn Borysenko of Zen Workplace offers some insightful tips when faced with narcissistic co-workers and bosses alike. Here's what she recommends:
What to do if you report to a narcissistic boss:
- Don't take is personally. Accept that this has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.
- Speak selectively. If you have nothing good to say, keep your mouth shut.
- Accept that this is just the way they are.
- Plan your exit. If this person's presence has reached a point where your stress is unmanageable and taking a toll, the only solution will be to get out.
What to do if you work with a narcissistic co-worker:
- Don't take it personally. Again, don't blame yourself - the problem is not with you but with them.
- Manage your expectations and prepare ahead. If you know what you're getting into with a narcissistic co-worker, start emotionally detaching early so you don't take their unreasonable demands personally.
- Seek leadership support. Make sure your boss knows what's going on, and cover your basis -- document, document, document! It will HR later when you have amassed documentation about what's really going down.