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Handling Narcissism in the Workplace

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

In business, we encounter many different hurdles. The workplace, in particular, is full of different personalities, all competing with each other. It’s important that you control your business environment for consistent results. You need to set a tone of constant guidance as to what is acceptable and what is not. You do this so everyone understands what the limits are.

For instance, say you’re in a staff or brainstorming meeting. You all kick around ideas and discuss the merits of each. Now consider when an employee catches a wave of someone else’s suggestion and makes the whole thing about their adventure on the topic. That would be fine if they allowed for others’ input. The fact is that sometimes employees don’t and instead become defensive when told it’s time to move along. This can waste meeting time and inhibits others’ willingness to share.

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In cases like this, the information this employee is sharing or adding to can be valuable; they just need to temper, shall we call it, their enthusiasm and allow others to share without criticism. Here it falls to management to counsel those employees with narcissistic tendencies in a way that respects their experience. Also, let them know perhaps if the direction of a project or meeting can utilize their previous work experience — that appeals to their expertise in a constructive way.

Situations in the workplace can result in completely different outcomes for different people. It just depends. In fact, it’s been posited that there may be a “narcissism spectrum” of sorts, where many of us may have certain traits related to narcissism. In fact, these traits are fairly common.

I believe almost everyone has some traits that put them on the “narcissist spectrum.” So, does this make us overly self-involved and out of tune with reality? No. What I believe is that we have all been wanting to be expressive and larger than life — and brands need to keep that in mind. There has been no other time when people can see their reflection projected in so many ways. Is this a bad thing? It depends.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder “is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies fragile self-esteem vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

And that is where reality and fantasy diverge in the workplace. A narcissist can be disruptive to the other employees who are merely there to work and have no need to feed on others. A narcissist may want or need to feed on the energy of those who are just working. Employees with these tendencies can be great for a brand or its worst nightmare if they become bored or disinterested.

If you suspect you are dealing with narcissism in your workplace, have a sit down with the employee and check things out. If a complaint prompted a meeting, use caution and document actions taken. As business leaders, we are not psychologists. If you have mental health resources through your medical or other plans, post this information for your entire staff. Considering all the life-altering events we have been through, I recently wrote an article on supporting employees’ mental health at work. I posit that a company’s true brand ambassadors are its employees and that companies need to have a supportive work environment in the area of mental health.

Managing a narcissist in the workplace can be tough and your response will ultimately depend on the person and the workplace. Listening to your employees could reveal some valuable insights into who you are dealing with. I’m not suggesting that you create a spy ring or anything. Just get the clues as to who your currently employed brand ambassadors are. You just might find a star — or opportunities to turn an employee into a star. Better you know.

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