The original narcissist was Narcissus, a hunter renowned for his beauty. He was proud and disdained those who loved him. Nemesis, goddess of retribution against those who succumb to excessive pride, attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He fell in love with it, was unable to leave his own “beauty,” and eventually died there.
There are many types of Narcissism. Arguably, humans are all narcissistic to some degree. We exhibit a healthy narcissism and concern about our well-being, which protects us from falling victim to predatory behavior of others. Malignant narcissism, a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, aggression, and sadism, is typically harmful in the workplace.
Weed out the narcissist using the following characteristics:
- Exploitative/entitlement – believe they are entitled and manipulate to their advantage
- Leadership/authority – prefer these roles and always have the “one” right answer
- Self-importance/arrogance – believe they are inherently better than others
- Fantasy/Preoccupation – they must have unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Self-absorption/lack empathy – they are the center of the universe and require excessive admiration
Avoid a hire
Narcissists do well at interviews. Confidence and boasting in this “natural environment” often creates a positive impression because they make eye contact, tell jokes and ask the interviewer relevant questions. Ask them questions that seek the person’s locus of control (extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them). Locus of control is either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (they believe that their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors that they cannot influence, or by chance or fate). We want the former.
Acknowledging the dark side
These grandiose individuals enjoy raising hostility levels, undermine their work environment, and tend to dehumanize others. Detrimental in a team context, they tend to be abrasive, dismissive and may breed an unhealthy form of competition. They may fool you for a while but then the house of cards falls.
Get them out
Please do not get stuck in “I will never find anyone to replace this person.” Narcissists never bring enough to the table to make the destructive part of the personality worth it. Manage them right out the door and listen to the collective sigh of relief.
One of the sports examples I like to use is the San Francisco Giants. As long as Barry Bonds – coined “The Great Narcissist” – was with the Giants they never won a world series. He was a seven time Most Valuable Player and yet the Giants never won the trophy when he was a member of the team. Makes you think doesn’t it? When will you address the narcissists in your company in order to win?
Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article