“According to recent cultural criticism … Narcissism is now to be seen at the root of everything…”
Jessica Benjamin “The Oedipal Riddle”
The narcissist is more apparent in today’s society due to the many avenues available for one to exhibit their narcissistic behavior from social media to cell phone cameras to 24 hour news cycles. Narcissism is in open and full view in politics and government, sports, entertainment, medicine, business and numerous activities in everyday life. I view the problem as one that has great impact on business and thus devoted the first chapter in my new book “Managing the Square Pegs” to the challenges of managing the narcissist. I don’t go quite as far as Ms. Benjamin in thinking narcissism is at the root of everything but I do think it is far more prevalent and misunderstood in our society than one might imagine.
IDENTIFYING THE NARCISSIST
The first step in understanding narcissists is developing the ability to identify a narcissist. The term Narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome Greek youth who rejected the advances of the nymph Echo. Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water and stared at his reflection hour upon hour. Echo could do nothing to dissuade Narcissus from staring at his reflection. He finally changed into a flower, which today is called Narcissus. The story of Narcissus may seem improbable and far from reality. Sadly, it is not. It is in fact quite realistic. It is estimated that as much as 6% of our population suffers from an unhealthy degree of narcissism.
THE NARCISSIST’S VIEW OF THEMSELVES
One trigger for spotting the narcissist is their view of themselves. Narcissists always have an inflated view of themselves and their abilities. They do not make mistakes; mistakes are made by others but not by them. John Foster Dulles was the former United States representative to the United Nations under President Dwight Eisenhower and later served for seven years as Eisenhower’s Secretary of State. He was once asked in an interview if he had ever been wrong. Mr. Dulles thought for a while before replying to the question. “Yes”, he admitted “once – many, many years ago. I thought I had made a wrong decision. Of course, it turned out that I had been right all along. But I was wrong to have thought I was wrong”. This is a classic narcissistic reaction: they are incapable of admitting they are wrong.
A WASTE OF TIME
A manager is wasting her time in trying to get a narcissist to admit a mistake or error. It will not happen. And it is a waste of hope for others to hope the narcissist will admit to a mistake. The Dulles example is such a perfect reminder of what it is like to work with a narcissist. If you keep this example in mind it will assist you in managing the narcissists who report to you. It will also assist in better understanding peers or executives to whom you report.
If you report to a narcissist the mistake will always, and I mean always, be made by you and not them no matter the true facts. And, if credit is deserved for certain work the narcissist will always insure it goes all to him.
#The Square Pegs