In Love With Yourself: Dealing With Narcissistic Personalities at Work


Love is an interesting business subject. I’ve written about loving your job, being in love with a co-worker or working with a spouse you love. But what if you are working with someone who is totally self-involved, in love with him or herself… a narcissist?

We may toss the term around, but narcissism is a real psychological condition in which one has an excessive interest in oneself-far beyond what is normal. While positive self-esteem is important, there’s a big difference between having a positive self-image and believing in one’s superiority to others.

The term comes from a Greek myth about the beautiful Narcissus. Upon seeing his own reflection in a pool he fell in love with it. He didn’t know it was his own image and fell in the water and drowned because he was unable to stop looking at himself.

A narcissist, while often entertaining, puts strain on relationships. It becomes especially difficult in a professional environment where people’s financial futures are on the line. Having a boss or co-worker who feels that he or she is the “smartest” or “most accomplished,” can manifest itself in a refusal to listen to other’s ideas or a need for constant praise. This person can be overly sensitive to clients’ criticism and that not only makes for bad personal relationships, it makes for bad business.

Wondering if you’re working with (or are) a real, clinical narcissist? Here’s a fun test from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to determine narcissistic personality disorder. A clinical narcissist, according to the manual, has five or more of the following traits I summarize here:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.

3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people (or institutions).

4. Requires excessive admiration.

5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Seriously, it’s very unlikely that your co-worker or boss is a clinical or Gordon Gekko-style narcissist. Most normal people are likely to have at least a few of these traits and even those can be annoying. At this point you may be asking yourself: what’s the next logical step to overcome the power of narcissism? There are a few ways to manage a relationship with a narcissistic person in your life.

Primarily, recognize that extreme narcissists are not interested in you and it’s not about you. Accept their emotional limitations. As soon as you accept that, your relationship will be easier. Don’t take things too personally. They probably aren’t thinking about you, your feelings or your reaction.

Communicate with care. Negativity is difficult for the narcissist.

Understand their motivations. Is it money, power, relationships or physical attractiveness? When you understand what drives the self-absorption, you can learn to work with it.

Know you probably can’t outmaneuver, out-charm or out-work a narcissist. They are most likely very motivated and socially skilled.

You cannot please a narcissist. They are by nature unsatisfied.