Origami Engineering

How can you spot a narcissist in the workplace?

Narcissist in the workplace

In my long-lasting professional experience, I’ve met a number of these individuals, and spotted many others. You see them gossiping about others by ridiculing them, or when they talk about their successes all the time, often exaggerating them because they make up their reality like crazy.

They never take responsibility when things go wrong. They love to be recognized as different and superior to others, so they demand a separate office space, like the bosses, even when they are not. They like to be served coffee by colleagues, or ask for a special first-line place in meetings.

While apparently, they often are very sociable people, they soon expose their attitude of dominance in gestures and speech, in the worst cases, they eventually show impatience and intolerance for all differences of race, religion, and sexual inclinations, and have prejudices against women, strangers, and so on.

Do you recognize any or many of these behaviors in someone? How do you recognize a narcissistic personality?

The first step is to understand that a narcissistic individual is not necessarily likable. They are often very charismatic and charming, but that’s part of their mask.
The second step is to recognize that narcissistic individuals have specific characteristics that make them difficult to deal with, even if they are not your boss.

Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there are varying degrees of narcissism. A person who is highly narcissistic may not necessarily be able to control themselves enough to get through an interview process without revealing some of their more extreme traits.
However, there are many narcissistic people who manage to hide their true nature well enough to get hired as employees or managers and then wreak havoc on their teams for years before anyone realizes what is going on.

The Entitled Brats

Have you ever worked with a narcissist? If so, you know how difficult it is to deal with them. Narcissistic individuals are self-absorbed, passive-aggressive, and manipulative.

They’re also incredibly ambitious – the belief is that the same characteristics that make narcissistic individuals so unbearable in your personal life are the ones that are effective in helping them rise through the ranks – the need for validation, controlling behaviors, and lack of empathy.

According to Dr. Jean Twenge and Prof. W. Keith Campbell, author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, narcissists get ahead by being “entitled brats” who demand constant validation and attention from their superiors, who tend to be either envious of the narcissist’s abilities or intimidated by them.
Narcissists will often use controlling behaviors to manipulate their co-workers into doing what they want and getting what they need while maintaining an air of superiority at all times.

Narcissistic people aren’t necessarily bad at their jobs; they just don’t care about anyone else’s feelings but their own – they lack empathy for other people and can never admit when they’re wrong because doing so would mean admitting weakness or vulnerability which goes against everything a narcissist stands for.

Narcissists are everywhere

Unfortunately, they often make their way into the workplace. But how can we spot them?

You can’t always tell by looking at someone whether or not they are a narcissist. Narcissists are like chameleons who adapt to fit into any situation – and that includes the workplace. They are also good at hiding their true colors and projecting an image of confidence and success.

So how do you recognize a narcissist when you see one? Here are some of the signs:

  • They believe themselves to be superior to others, even though this may not be true
  • They have an insatiable need for validation from others, and will often put other people down in order to get it
  • Their sense of entitlement is so strong that they don’t feel obligated to care about anyone other than themselves. In fact, they’ll often take advantage of others in order to achieve their own goals.

Desire for Validation and Control

Narcissists are known for their high level of self-regard – a trait that can be helpful in the workplace, but only if it is used correctly. Narcissists’ desire for validation and control can lead them to become dominant and aggressive in the workplace, which is not only unproductive but also incredibly annoying to work with.

However, narcissists’ lack of empathy and tendency to blame others can also make them great leaders: they don’t want to dwell on the problems of others or feel bad about themselves when things go wrong. They are focused on getting things done quickly and efficiently so they can move on to their next project.

Narcissists are often characterized by their grandiosity – the idea that they are superior to others because they possess unique talents or skills. In reality, however, narcissists often have low self-esteem; this is why their behavior tends towards aggression rather than confidence. Narcissists see themselves as better than everyone else and therefore feel justified in taking advantage of others when necessary, as long as it doesn’t hurt their image.

Because narcissists lack emotional intelligence and empathy, they struggle with maintaining relationships with team members; however, they excel at managing conflict situations because they aren’t and cannot be emotionally involved.

Narcissist or Leader

In the workplace, narcissists are often seen as leaders who are driven to succeed and can get results.

They give a charismatic, confident, and persuasive image of themselves, to appear the type of person who can convince you they are right even when they aren’t.
But narcissists are also often seen as “bully bosses” who intimidate their employees and make work life miserable. That is what makes clear the distance from true leadership, and evidences the narcissist in disguise.

Many of these bully bosses look for a team of “yes men”, searching to always work with people keen to validate their work and ideas. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important not to fall into the trap of agreeing with everything they say – even if it feels like they’re right! Instead, try articulating your position clearly and calmly without making comparisons or invoking others’ accomplishments as evidence of your own worthiness.

During my professional career, I was so lucky to find some of these narcissists at work, in the company, and even in my own team. Good knowledge of narcissistic personality disorder helped me ever since to avoid those detrimental relationships, both personally and professionally, and allows me today to work on companies’ organization and systems avoiding the nasty consequences of narcissistic personalities at work.

Spotting these personalities among your team can save you a lot of teamwork since a single one with a narcissistic personality can damage a big group. I will write again on the topic. Stay tuned.


By Raffaella Grassi, Senior Managing Partner at Origami UK

Share on

Start typing and press Enter to search

Shopping Cart