Workplace Narcissism and its Effects on the Workplace

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Workplace Narcissism and The Effects On The Workplace


Being in any kind of workplace can be both a fun and a dreadful experience. Fun, in a sense that everything can be thrilling and exciting. This is especially when you know you’re going to interact with a ton of clients and different workmates in your department. It can be dreadful at times, though, especially if you know you’re not exactly the most confident in the bunch, and you’re in a new environment. Perhaps more distressing is when you meet certain… odd characters. Surprisingly, workplace narcissism and the effects on the workplace do occur, and you might be in the middle of a situation you can’t immediately resolve.

business man facing mirror with red tie

Narcissism is more than obsessing about your image.

Sometimes, bosses and workmates might exhibit behaviour that’s nothing short of distressing. Interestingly, sometimes the problem is with them and the way they interact with others. Sometimes, it can be you exhibiting behaviours you may want to change. Point is, narcissism might be something that can happen to people, but it can be very detrimental to the workplace. Identifying and resolving these issues are some of the points we’re going to discuss in this article.

Personality Deviations: Psychopaths, Narcissists, Sociopaths And The Difference

Perhaps it helps to first establish that while the concepts of psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists may indeed seem similar to one another, they have very key differences that set them apart. This is important, as behaviours to watch out for become evident when you know the difference between the three (3) concepts at hand. First, however, it may help to differentiate a psychopath and a sociopath.

Psychopaths and sociopaths can be similar thanks to their shared diagnosis, both belonging to the antisocial personality disorder. Someone has antisocial personality disorder when they have three (3) or more of these traits:

  • They regularly flout or break the law.
  • They regularly deceive and lie to others.
  • They don’t plan ahead and are often impulsive.
  • They are prone to aggressiveness and fighting.
  • They have little regard for others’ safety.
  • They are irresponsible and can’t meet obligations properly.
  • They lack remorse or guilt.

Psychopaths exhibit psychopathy, which is a kind of antisocial disorder oftentimes characterized by a harder time forming real emotional attachments to others. Some researchers believe psychopaths are actually born, which means this is likely a genetic disposition that separates them from other people thanks to physiological differences in the brains. Some signs include:

  • They often form shallow and artificial relationships that are somewhat designed for the psychopath’s benefit. People in these relationships are often “moved” by psychopaths for their gain.
  • They sometimes get to be seen as trustworthy and charming by others, as they are capable of holding normal jobs. Some even have seemingly-loving relationships with partners and have families.
  • They oftentimes exhibit behaviour that tries to minimize risks they experience, especially when it comes to criminal activity. They plan criminal activities carefully to make sure they won’t get caught.

Sociopaths exhibit sociopathy, which is an antisocial disorder that’s the opposite of psychopathy. Sociopaths tend to be more erratic and more impulsive, and are oftentimes considered a product of environmental factors. These include negative upbringing with childhood trauma, abuse of different kinds, and other factors that may affect their upbringing. Other qualities include:

  • They oftentimes have difficulty forming relationships with others, though they’re capable of forming connections with like-minded individuals.
  • They have a harder time holding long-term jobs or maintain normal family lifestyles.
  • They oftentimes engage with decisions in largely unplanned and impulsive manners, with almost little regard for the consequences this might have to others.
  • They are sometimes easily angered and irritated, which in turn may result in outbursts.

Perhaps interesting is the difference between a sociopath and a narcissist, as both seem to be extremely similar concepts and conditions that may be exhibited by the same individual. It’s for this reason that sometimes this is a confusing aspect of human behaviour that a lot of people don’t easily understand.

Narcissism In The Workplace: The Signs To Know

Both sociopathy and narcissism are present under conditions similar to borderline personality disorders, antisocial and histrionic disorders, as well as narcissism. This is the reason why both narcissism and sociopathy are both categorized as under “dramatic erratic” antisocial personality disorders. What makes a narcissist a narcissist, though?

  • It’s with the degree: It’s important to understand that some people can exhibit traits of a disorder without exhibiting all known traits. For instance, a person can have this self-centred flavour but not find them on the “worst” part of the spectrum. As such their offence can be less severe, less frequent, and they may appear open to criticism. Likewise, their form of retaliation can be prolonged or less intense, such as covert aggression, silence, and criticism.
  • It’s with how they manage impressions: Sometimes, a lot of people find it much harder to identify narcissists in a crowd because they are skilled in what’s called “impression management.” This makes their behaviour or personality much more difficult to assess as they can get people to think of them as competent, thoughtful, and charming. They can even make you feel special, which makes them very seductive.
  • It’s about identifying who to manipulate: Sociopaths and narcissists are good readers of people, and can exploit vulnerable and trusting individuals for their own good. They’re extremely difficult to spot unless the narcissist in question has wreaked undeniable and tremendous havoc. Likewise, since people have the impression that someone needs to ascribe to a particular moral code (e.g., harming is wrong), then people may find it difficult to assess why a person can act “off.” These feelings of fear, distrust, and anger can cause cognitive dissonance or great distress, and as a result may end up just adjusting and reinterpreting facts instead of confronting the hard truth.
  • It’s hit and miss with being “ordinary” to them: Narcissists tend to meet the “criteria” of being seemingly normal, and at the same time sometimes they don’t appear normal at all. Narcissists can be around you looking successful, smooth, well-dressed, and very polished. However, sometimes, narcissists also take advantage of the image they have as “good” in order to manipulate systems to their needs.
  • It’s not a matter of committing obvious crimes: Unlike sociopaths, narcissists tend to have a penchant to do things that are immoral, callous, and sometimes borderline illegal but can be very hard to prove. They can harass employees, misrepresent products, bully workers, or even default on debts. These can be much harder to prosecute, and sometimes these people select victims they know won’t be able to fight back.
  • It’s being harmful, but not exactly dangerous: Narcissists don’t resort to hurting individuals physically. They tend to do things by being emotionally manipulative, hurtful, and vengeful – especially if they feel psychologically injured. Sometimes they also believe they’re the exemption to the rule, and they are less likely to be impulsive and cause harm to themselves and others.

Of course, just because we’ve highlighted some behaviour exhibited by a narcissist, in general, doesn’t mean it’s automatically the same in the workplace. Sometimes, more specific situations happen in the workplace that can be alarming for quite a couple of reasons. Here are some behaviours you should pay attention to:

  • They tend to have a sense of entitlement or self-importance and have a tendency to exaggerate their own achievements. They expected to be treated as superior to others,
    bearded man in white shirt looking arrogant

    Spotting a narcissist isn’t as easy as this.

    even if they don’t necessarily have proper achievements.

  • They like the idea of fantasies of ideal love, beauty, brilliance, success, and power. This is extended in the workplace when they think they can do whatever they want regardless of policies.
  • They seem to need excessive admiration and believe they’re “special” and can only be associated with “high status” individuals. This is easily seen when some people tend to try to be buddy-buddy with managers and superiors on inappropriate levels.
  • They seem to be manipulative and lack empathy, which is dangerous especially if you notice they abuse co-workers and lead them to trouble just for their whims.
  • They seem to constantly believe people are jealous of them, or they seem to be jealous of other coworkers for some reason.

Missing The Mark: How Does Narcissistic Behaviour Affect The Workplace?

Narcissism in the workplace can hurt not just company morale but entire operations. This is because their behaviour may more often than not prioritize their own needs and personal goals than those of the organization’s. Here are some of the effects of narcissistic behaviour in the workplace:

  • Prioritizes putting themselves into the spotlight, whatever it takes: Narcissists in the workplace tend to put their personal interests in the spotlight first, which can often compromise their relationships with coworkers. This can make a working environment extremely toxic, and sometimes unbearable.
  • Going against their nature makes them quarrelsome, compulsive, and irritable: When you try to express your opinions to a narcissist, they tend to want to shut you down because they want their opinion to prevail. This can be dangerous to a company, especially if you know the narcissist’s plan isn’t exactly going to work, but you’re being constantly goaded and pushed into following their opinions.
  • Envy, jealousy, and anger can make them resentful and delusional to a fault: When a narcissistic person doesn’t get their way, they tend to resort to envy, jealousy, and anger. This often leads to resentment, and a delusion they need to get “justice” for what’s been done to them. The behaviour that may result from this kind of spite can be detrimental to overall work.
  • Disruptive behaviour makes it almost impossible to collaborate with others: When narcissists do their usual “thing,” it can get very disruptive to the workplace. Not everyone may get to do their tasks because they’d be busy trying to deal with the behaviour of the narcissist.

With the above in mind, it’s surprising to realize that the narcissistic behaviour of one person – be it a leader or a coworker, can actually be very disruptive to the flow of the workplace. When you spot someone with these kinds of behaviours, especially when you experience the above effects, you should either try to resolve the situation with the person involved or with human resources. Push comes to shove, it may also help to just leave the company or ask to be transferred to another department.

Interpersonal Skills: What Should A Leader Possess?

With the above in mind, dealing with a toxic co-worker or even a toxic boss can be extremely excruciating and annoying most of the time. If you’re a manager or a boss, however, having narcissism in the workplace doesn’t necessarily spell game over for you. There are indeed qualities you can strive to attain in order to be able to properly be a good role model for your employees:

  • Efficient communication in both written and spoken language: Leaders should be able to communicate using both written and spoken language. Their ability to articulate their opinions can help avoid misunderstandings.
  • Facilitation skills, especially in terms of negotiations and conflicts: A leader should be capable of facilitating their members, especially during negotiations and conflicts. Leaders should be able to provide assistance to staff who have grievances with each other, and they should be able to listen to both sides of the equation and reach a reasonable conclusion.
  • Mentoring capacity for influence and motivation: Leaders should be able to mentor their employees, especially when it comes to motivating and influencing them not to be better workers but also as individuals. Their ability to motivate employees into working their best and feeling happy at the same time can be very helpful in managing the workplace properly.
  • Affirmative planning and decision making capacity: Leaders don’t neglect planning and decision making. Their ability to assess variables of any situation allows them to formulate plans that can help push the company to greater heights.
  • Integrity and accountability, especially for teams: Integrity and accountability are elements leaders possess that show their employees their reliability and honesty. They know how to acknowledge and admit their mistakes, and show their willingness to improve from it.

With the above into consideration, it appears it’s perfectly possible for bosses and managers to motivate and push staff towards exhibiting behaviour that isn’t toxic to the workplace. However, it does help if these kinds of behaviours start with them first.  

Fixing The Problem: How Do You Manage/Communicate Interactions In The Workplace?

Fortunately, even with the above details, it’s still very much possible to actually manage communications and interactions in the workplace properly. This is regardless of whether or not you’re a boss or an employee, and whether or not you’re dealing with narcissism or not. Here are some things you can actually do:

  • Be an active listener to try to identify the root of the problem: When you encounter problems in the workplace, try to be an active listener and distance yourself from the situation. This often helps determine what causes the problem, especially with proper reflection in a calm place.
  • Express your intent very early on to avoid misunderstandings: Whenever you’re dealing with a person or a situation where conflict can arise, do state your intent clearly. This avoids misunderstandings and miscommunications. When you have to be blunt, honest, quiet, soft, or hard on someone, try to express this first so they have a moment to prepare.
  • Practice professional honesty to establish more honest communication: When you think someone is going over the line, professional honesty establishes you as a person they can communicate with in terms of concerns. By showing yourself as willing to be blunt with the individual, you may create an atmosphere of honesty that can lead you to understand the person.
  • Try to avoid spending time with them whenever possible: If someone is becoming unbearable and toxic, try to spend some time away from them. This gives you an opportunity to assess your situation much more carefully.
  • Take the problem to a direct supervisor if possible: If you can no longer bear your situation, it’s wise to speak with a direct supervisor or human resources. Should your problem be a manager, it’s important you take this matter to their higher-up to find a solution.

With the above into consideration, it may be difficult to acknowledge that a lot of adjustments when dealing with difficult interactions will be coming from your end. However, it helps to treat these encounters as good learning experiences for you to be able to help yourself and others in similar situations. Remember, you don’t have to risk your career and your success with your work just because of a coworker or a boss that is making your work life much harder.

The Takeaway: Narcissism In The Workplace Can Be Resolved Properly

With the above taken into consideration, it’s important to remember that narcissism isn’t necessarily something that’s impossible to resolve and remedy – especially in the workplace. Regardless of whether or not you’re a boss or a staff in the workplace, finding symptoms of narcissistic behaviour with yourself, a boss, or a workmate can be resolved through proper means.

If you think talking with the person involved won’t be able to help, there are always avenues such as formal reports, superiors, or even human resource personnel to help you out with your particular situation. However, if you think the problem is with you and you find it extremely difficult to solve, it may also be time for you to consult a psychologist.

Endeavor Wellness is a psychology practice in Sydney, Australia that specialises in a number of mental health support solutions for their clients. They can help with depression, anxiety, to family and child problems.


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