Narcissists: The Silent Saboteurs By Desiree Silverstone, Psychotherapist Turned Executive Coach

In today’s fast-paced and competitive work environment, navigating various personalities and adapting to different individuals can be challenging. However, when a narcissist enters the picture, the impact is significantly disruptive. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) manifests as a wide spectrum, making it important to note that not every person displaying narcissistic traits falls into this category. Those at the higher end of the spectrum are diagnosed with NPD, while individuals exhibiting narcissistic tendencies are found at the lower end.

The destructive and intrusive behaviour of narcissists creates a toxic environment that can have far-reaching consequences for both individuals and organisations. This is because emotions are infectious, and we are especially vulnerable to negative emotions. We have mirror and spindle neurons which are crucial for our survival as they enable us to empathise, communicate, and discern potential threats.

A Narcissist’s Playbook 

Narcissists tend to have an inflated sense of their own importance and are often envious, manipulative, and exploitative.  It is common for people with narcissistic tendencies to have an inflated sense of entitlement and to expect special treatment. Their desire is to be recognised and praised for every little thing they do which can be exhausting for those around them. Since they cannot deal with criticism or cooperate with colleagues, they are incapable of growing and developing. Narcissists also tend to engage in unethical or manipulative behaviour, such as stealing credit for other people’s work or taking advantage of their colleagues in order to get ahead.

It is common for them to exhibit a range of manipulative tactics, including gaslighting, belittling, and undermining others. Lacking empathy and self-awareness, they don’t realise how negatively they affect others. This often leaves individuals grappling with feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and immense frustration.

When working in a team it often transpires that very few team members will concur with the narcissist’s perspective. There will inevitably be dissenting voices among the team members who offer a pragmatic viewpoint to the entire group. This intricate dynamic can create substantial confusion and, over time, potentially ignite unwarranted conflicts within the team, consequently diminishing the team’s overall rate of success.

The silent epidemic in your workplace

Because they are so manipulative, they frequently hold leadership positions and exert great influence over both employees and the company. They can breed a sense of competition and hostility, making individuals feel unappreciated and undervalued which has detrimental effects over the long term. Having a manager with NPD can result in decreased productivity, lowered morale, and a sense of disillusionment. Moreover, the effects on employees’ mental and emotional well-being are profound. Stress, anxiety, depression, and even physical health issues can arise resulting in high levels of absenteeism.

Many individuals carry deep psychological scars and trauma from their experiences working with a narcissist, often seeking therapy or coaching to find healing. The consequences can be far-reaching, negatively impacting their well-being, leadership, and productivity long after encountering the narcissist.

Dealing with a narcissist can be an incredibly challenging task. However, there are strategies you can employ to safeguard yourself, minimise conflict, and preserve your sanity.

The Art of Not Losing Your Sh*t

Engaging with a narcissist’s provocative behaviour by losing your temper, yelling, or sending a hasty email only provides them with a sense of satisfaction, reaffirming their power over you.

Narcissists may not respond well to criticism or confrontation, so it is best to avoid these situations altogether. If the narcissist insists on engaging in a conflict, try to stay calm and reasonable. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into a shouting match as this could lead to further issues down the line.

Putting it bluntly: Creating Boundaries

Setting clear boundaries with a narcissist is crucial. They establish mutual respect and understanding, limiting the power the narcissist holds over you. Boundaries are your shield against manipulation, control, and exploitation. Stay resolute in enforcing them, refusing to let the narcissist cross the line. Remember, you have the right to safeguard your well-being. By setting boundaries, you create a healthier relationship dynamic and alleviate the stress of dealing with a narcissist. Take charge, protect yourself, and reclaim your power.

Don’t get played – Focus on the facts

When discussing a task or project with a narcissist, avoid engaging in any kind of emotional discussion and focus instead on the facts at hand. This will help to prevent any potential power struggles from occurring and the narcissist may be more likely to cooperate if there are clear objectives in place.

Don’t take it personally and let them live rent free in your head!

Narcissists often use words to hurt and belittle those they are speaking with. It is important to remember that their behaviour is not a reflection of you, but rather an indication of the narcissist’s own insecurities. Do not take it personally and instead focus on maintaining your composure and staying professional. Create a mantra for yourself like, “This is your stuff, this isn’t about me.”

You have the Power to Call them out

It is important to differentiate between annoying behaviour and abusive behaviour. While ignoring annoying behaviour is generally advisable, it is crucial to address abusive behaviour. If you find yourself dealing with a narcissist who consistently puts you down or bullies’ others in the office, it is vital to act. Don’t hesitate to involve HR if necessary. In cases where the abuse is covert, it might be necessary to document incidents over a period to establish a clear pattern. 

Remember, you aren’t going to change the narcissist, but you can change the way you choose to behave to protect yourself and your well-being.

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