Narcissism in the workplace

 Obviously narcissism is one of the dark triad personality traits. If you come across one, this is not fixable and should be removed from the office or isolated so they cannot do any harm.

The problem is, unless you are a psychologist and specifically their psychologist, you cannot diagnose them yourself. Which means, you should NOT assume that they are narcissist, even if they are exhibiting what appears to be narcissistic tendencies.

What should you do to a) protect yourself and b) expose them? 

I teach how to stop unwanted behavior like bullying and harassment using behavioral science techniques known as operant conditioning that I learned while training dolphins. Specifically, how to stop unwanted behavior using a technique that is called “extinguishing a behavior.”

I have dealt with psychopaths and other problematic personality types in the workplace successfully. The approach is not to expose them,  but to allow them to expose themselves.  I do this using excessive CYA documentation (cover you’re a$$).   Whenever I interact with them, I do so pleasantly and with the expectation that everything is above the board legit. Then I follow up and document absolutely every conversation. 

If I agree to do some work for them, I follow up with an email to ensure I understood the parameters of the work properly. Did they promise to get me some supplies I need, I email them to verify that we agreed to that. Everything, gets a documentation email. AND I cc either my boss of theirs or both depending on the situation.  

They are predictable

The great thing about dark triad personalities is they are EXTREMELY predictable. Don’t ever assume they won’t try to harm you. They will. So prepare for that and work around that. The simplest easiest way is to send well intentioned confirmation emails on every little thing.

If the person is not a narcissist, but has some other issue that you weren’t aware of, these emails with them being cc’d will probably straighten them up. Hopefully it will. And hopefully the person isn’t actually a narcissist.

But if they ARE a narcissist, they will get mad and escalate if you do this. That’s ok. That’s predicted to occur. Their illness makes them creatures of habit. They use confusion and hearsay to hide what they are doing and revel in the confusion and angst it causes others. When you document everything and confirm everything what you are doing is working to create clarity. In good faith. This clarity will remove their ability to hide and sow doubt and confusion. Basically, they will experience your work to create clarity as a loss of control. This will cause them to escalate and they will not be able to help themselves. Again, this is a disease, and they are not in control of it. 

As they escalate, their actions will become more overt and they will hide less and they will expose themselves. This is why you should cc your boss and their boss. And if they are your boss, definitely loop in their boss.  NEVER have a private conversation with them and ALWAYS document and make sure the upper level managers know what’s going on.  This will allow them to see that you are working hard to create clarity and help them see that the other person is the problem. 

The role of managers

At first, the managers will be a bit frustrated as they don’t like being brought in for what they think are interpersonal problems. But most managers are also aware that if they are being ccd in on something, it’s because something is wrong with the dynamic and they should pay attention and they will. They may be silent as they sit and watch, but they will.

As the narcissist becomes more overt as their ability to control the dynamic and cause confusion etc are removed, they will continue to escalate until they do something really inappropriate.  It is usually at this point that the managers start to intervene.

Your only job throughout this is to do a good job. Trying to create clarity in a confusing situation is doing a good job. Don’t lash out – ever. Don’t every accuse them of anything (unless they break a law or harass or discriminate, which is breaking a law). Just be professional and do your best to do a good job. If you do this, people will recognize it and the narcissist will expose themselves.  All you did was give them every opportunity to work professionally and collaboratively. If they don’t or in the case of a narcissist can’t work professionally and collaboratively, they will prove that through their actions.

This works most of the time.  Not every time, but most of the time. 

Learn more:

I have a course on how to prevent passive aggressive people from wreaking havoc in the workplace where I go into detail on this technique and provide real life examples of what this looks like.  If you are dealing with a suspected dark triad personality in the workplace, consider taking this course. 

More details and registration information at: 

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