Are you running into more and more people on the phone and in your office as potential clients or co-workers, who appear to have narcissistic tendencies?  People flying the “all about me?” flag? People who are more than willing to tell you or anyone else how “awesome” they are?  If you’re nodding your head or saying yes, it’s not surprising. Research shows there is a narcissism epidemic going on.  Just take a look around…Selfies, Tweets and Snaps are the latest iterations of this “all about me” epidemic.

Narcissistic people tend to be charming, articulate, funny, entertaining, good story tellers, and often appear to have spotlights shining upon them wherever they go.  Right off the bat, narcissistic people tend to make great first impressions (you may have fought with a colleague in your office to get this person to be your client), tend to have great first interviews (you may have hired a narcissist), tend to be great first dates (and may be married to one), tend to be chosen for leadership positions and may be working for one.  But, three or four months down the road, those first impressions sour, those great first interviews have nothing to do with mediocre job performance, that first date tends to be a relationship disaster and that leadership opportunity doesn’t pan out.

So, what to do now that these narcissists are in your work life as clients, co-workers, bosses and/or in your personal life as friends, dates, partners?  And what to do to prevent yourself from falling into this narcissism trap that’s increasingly becoming the norm in our culture?  The short answer by Al Bernstein, a clinical psychologist, is,  “Don’t.  Stay away. Narcissistic people tend to be unhappy, tend to make those around them miserable, tend to lack empathy, tend not to work hard and tend to be very hard to change.”

The long answer if you have no choice but to deal with a narcissistic person is, according to Bernstein, the following:

  1.  Kiss up or shut up.  If you need to communicate with a narcissistic person, admire them and their achievements.  Listen.  Look interested.  They’re not interested in what you have to say…they already know everything anyway.
  2. Know what you want out of the transaction and/or the relationship and be very clear about it.  They’ll not be offended by someone who is looking out for themselves…they’ll think that you’re just like them.
  3. Reward actions, not words.  They get what they want when they do what you want. This is also known as having boundaries.
  4. Negotiate hard.  There is no win-win mentality here.  Refer to #2.
  5. Keep a journal or ledger to record what the “deal” or arrangement or promise is.  Just the facts here…no embellishments. You can even suggest that they review that record for accuracy while you’re noting it at the time.  This journal/ledger will serve as a good accountability reminder to everyone involved because when they get what they want, they’re on to the next deal…they’re finished with you.
  6. Ask them, “What would people think if…?”  Since narcissists don’t feel guilt for doing or not doing anything and the narcissistic world view is all about appearances, narcissists want to look good.  Help them look good.  Use disappointment rather than anger.  Use shame…shame is a public, external emotion whereas guilt is a private, internal one.
  7. And for you to not become narcissistic? It really is a good thing to be “ordinary.”  You don’t have to advertise that you are the “best” even if you are.  Maintain empathy and channel your need to be “awesome” into helping others.