By Shana Palmieri, August 4, 2020

Do you have an employee who refuses to accept feedback, is always right, monopolizes the conversation and feels entitled to special treatment within your agency? Are these traits creating a challenge for leadership to engage this employee to collaborate with the team to achieve the mission, purpose and goals?

Individuals with these traits often create a struggle for supervisors and leadership within organizations, the struggle can be even more severe if the individual within the leadership position embodies narcissistic personality traits.

Let’s first review: What exactly is Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how prevalent is it in our society?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is noted to be the least studied of the psychiatric disorders. Patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are often known for coming to therapeutic treatment ‘by force’ or as a last resort and often do poorly in therapeutic treatment.

The research indicates that the underlying roots of narcissism are often due to negative developmental experiences such as being rejected in childhood, or, in contrast, excessive praise during childhood leading the individual to believe he has exceptional traits.1 A 2009 study found narcissistic personality disorder was a fairly prevalent personality disorder in the United States, occurring at an estimated rate of 6.7%, with rates in men at 7.7% and in women at 4.8%.2

An individual may have traits of the disorder or meet full diagnostic criteria for the disorder. The typical presentation of Narcissistic Personality Disorder includes:3

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • A sense of entitlement and a consistent need for excessive admiration.
  • Expectation to be recognized as superior without achievements that indicate the need for recognition.
  • The individual exaggerates his or her achievements, abilities and talents.
  • The individual has a preoccupation and obsession with success, power, beauty, brilliance or being the perfect mate.
  • The individual believes he or she is superior and only desires or agrees to associate with people he or she views as equally special people.
  • The individual tends to monopolize conversations and belittle others who they perceive as inferior.
  • The individual expects to receive special favors for his or her expectations to consistently be met, and for unquestioning compliance in his or her demands and requests.
  • The individual is unable and unwilling to recognize the feelings and needs of others.
  • The individual is both envious of others and also believes others envy them.
  • The individual behaves with arrogance.
  • The individual insists on having and deserving the best of everything.

Likely the most challenging aspect for employers is that individuals with narcissistic traits or narcissistic personality disorder have an incredibly difficult time accepting feedback or criticism. They often have the following reactions:

  • Become irritated, angry or emotionally distressed when they do not get their way or view themselves as not getting special treatment.
  • Are unable to regulate their emotions and struggle to tolerate stressful situations.
  • May react with rage and then direct their anger toward criticizing others and demonstrating their own superiority.
  • Have frequent interpersonal conflict, especially with the individuals who provide the feedback (perceived as criticism).
  • Significant difficulty adapting to change or adjusting their mindset.

Managing and Setting Boundaries

Employees with these traits can be challenging at best to manage within an organization and ultimately may be toxic to the overall success of the organization. Some of the tips below may help minimize the impact these individuals have on your organization.

1. Check yourself. Prior to assuming the individual you are seeking to manage is narcissistic, take a look at yourself and your approach to ensure your management style is not creating a defensive reaction in your employees. Key tip: If you struggle to manage all your employees and think they all have significant pathological personality problems, it may be an appropriate time for self-reflection.

2. Clearly identify your objectives. What are the goals and objectives you need to accomplish to meet the mission of your agency? In which areas is the employee demonstrating an inability to perform? What needs to change in order for the employee to be successful? Attempt to be objective and separate your own emotional reaction to the employee. What specifically do you need the employee to do/change in order for the organization to be successful?

3. Be concrete and clear with expectations. Engage in all conversations with respect and empathy, but stay focused on what needs to change in order for the employee to meet the goals and expectations of the organization.

4. Align with the leadership team on expectations and boundaries. If the employee is able to go above the supervisor’s head and get an exception or special treatment, the situation will be exacerbated and create further toxicity within the organization. The rules and boundaries must be clear, consistent and aligned with the leadership team.

5. Be consistent. The expectations need to be consistent not only for the employee causing the challenging dynamic, but for all employees. Attempt to keep rules, boundaries and expectations consistent across the board with employees to minimize special treatment and favoritism.

6. Follow through on consequences for not meeting expectations. Ensure goals and expectations are being met. If the expectations are not met, follow up promptly.

7. Stay focused. Do not let yourself be swayed by emotion or manipulation. Stay focused on the facts and the key tasks, objections and goals of the organization. Refer back to the facts and make the decision off the facts, not the emotional persuasion of the employee.

8. Remember your role. As a supervisor or leader, your role is to support the mission, purpose and goals to be accomplished. Stay focused on supporting your employees with the key objective being to meet the goals and objectives of the agency, not the personal goals of individual employees.

9. Be willing to part ways. If the employee is unable to collaborate with the team to successfully perform the functions of the job, be willing to part ways. Excellent leaders and supervisors will provide empathetic, respectful and considerate support to their employees to ensure their success. However, they must also understand the appropriate time when an employee has personality traits that are interfering with success of the organization and may need to make the decision to part ways.

Note: Shana will cover personality disorders and several other topics during Managing Employees With Mental Health Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic on August 26, 1-4:30 pm ET. info@feltg.com

1 Mitra, P. (2020, April 15). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.statpearls.com/kb/viewarticle/27055

2 Stinson, F., Dawson, D., Goldstein, R., Chou, S., Huang, B., Smith, S., . . . Grant, B. (2008, July). Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder: Results from the wave 2 national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2669224/

Narcissistic personality disorder. (2017, November 18). Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662

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