Psych 101 -- Winning Relationships: Beat the Narcissist at Work -- Research Summary
BACKGROUND: What do Oprah Winfrey, Jack Welch, Martha Stewart, and Bill Gates have in common? According to psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby, Ph.D., it's not just enormous success -- it's also a personality trait called narcissism. The dictionary defines narcissist as "excessive love or admiration of oneself." Working with -- or for -- a narcissist can be dangerous but is sometimes worth it. It all depends on what kind of narcissist you're dealing with.
CREATIVE NARCISSIST: Dr. Maccoby says the creative narcissist, or visionary type, has a big dream and vision, and sticking with that kind of narcissist could mean you'll get taken to the top, too. He explains, "The best narcissists have this idea of creating something great, something new, and it gives meaning to a lot of people to be part of something like that." You just have to understand that it's always the narcissist's vision you're working for -- not necessarily your own. You have to be ready for a tough ride. Dr. Maccoby says: "They tend to often lack much loyalty. They'll call you any hour of the day or night if they need you. And furthermore, they tend to be rather insensitive about your feelings, though extremely sensitive about their own." But, as Dr. Maccoby points out, "The people who worked for Bill Gates or Steve Jobs in the beginning are multi-millionaires."
PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSIST: This type of narcissist characterizes historical figures like Mao, Stalin and Hitler. Working for an irrational, pathological "monster" is probably not worth it, according to Dr. Maccoby. This would also be a person who is just out for himself and isn't going to make you part of something great.
BEATING THE NARCISSIST: Dr. Maccoby says you can't beat a narcissistic boss at his own game -- you can only leave and create your own game. But if you want to stay working for him, you can at least become a better player. Here's how:
- Be clear about what the rules are for you. Define you limits
- Don't assume anything
- Get everything down in writing
- If you want to get something across, make them think it's their idea
- Offer sincere flattery
- Don't expect the narcissistic boss to just give you something -- you have to demand it
- If you want them to change something, you must show them that it will be bad for them -- not that it is something immoral or unethical -- but that it will actually be bad for them
- Be careful with giving criticism. If a narcissistic boss has what you perceive as a stupid idea, don't tell him you think it's stupid. Repeat the idea back to him, and he'll tell you it's stupid
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Michael Maccoby, Ph.D.