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Vanity Unfair

Many commentators think that we are facing a narcissism epidemic fueled by the internet, instant celebrity, easy credit and cultural pressures that impact us on a daily basis. There is even a prevailing myth it seems that has made us tolerate or even encourage narcissism – that somehow it is a function of high self-esteem – no bad thing right? A little narcissism is healthy and perhaps you need to love yourself before you can love someone else…..

Narcissism is a term that originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. So narcissism – this over inflated view of oneself – is everywhere and the current headlines scream of so many indiscretions in a range of industries not just the headline grabbling world of celebrity. Some would say that the paparazzi have elevated it to an art form. Even if most of us don’t have a full-fledged personality disorder, deep down, don’t we all have some of the narcissist in us? Just scrolling through social media posts shows our self-absorption is pervasive.

But these behaviours for twenty and thirty-somethings create massive collateral damage for employers and our education system and it has repercussions for every age and class. Even the global economy has been damaged by risky, unrealistic overconfidence. Recent studies show that students today score higher on assertiveness, self-liking narcissistic traits and high expectations but they also score higher on some measures of stress, anxiety and poor mental health – and lower on self-reliance. Perhaps we could infer more confidence but less competence and higher stress but lower performance.

A less capable yet more entitled workforce rings many alarm bells but this is not the first generation to be accused of having it easy. However parents today seem pre-occupied with boosting their child’s self-esteem and why not – can it be a bad thing to want your child to enter the world with a positive sense of self?

A recent Stanford study demonstrated that toddlers actually show more motivation when praised for effort as opposed to some spurious talent. Further research shows that extreme praise for children with low self-esteem is hurtful and these children tend to shrink away from new challenges.

Not all narcissists of course are the same and there are certainly varying degrees of the condition from the mild to the pathological. Nevertheless we regularly meet those displaying the behaviours and we also come across narcissistic leaders.

The truth is that it is that individuals who would score highly on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behavior that harms organizations or people. Lesser forms of narcissism still present problems for the effective functioning of a workplace and relationships within it.

You may be working with a narcissistic boss or colleague, who engages in behaviours to diminish you and aggrandize themselves. These behaviors include withholding, in which the narcissist feigns understanding; countering, where he/she calls your memory into question; blocking and diverting the conversation to something else; trivializing your concerns; and forgetting or denying abusive behavior. All these behaviors are intended to make you doubt your thoughts, memories and actions and attempt to make you see that there’s something wrong with you.

Dealing with the narcissist is tough and frankly the best approach is to avoid them altogether. However we accept that this is not always practical and so here are a few tips to help you out…..

• Ignore them and don’t react if they are abusive. They’ll move on to another target;
• Make good eye contact and speak confidently but not in a critical manner or aggressive manner; don’t be tacit or show a lack of confidence;
• Don’t try to appeal to their empathy or compassion;
• Do not ask them to put themselves in your shoes to see your point of view. They are not capable of that;
• Never disagree with the narcissist or contradict him/her particularly in front of other people; he/she will punish you for doing so;
• Do not make any comment, which might directly or indirectly impinge on the narcissist’s self-image;
• Do not say things like the following: “I think you overlooked … made a mistake here … you don’t know … do you know … you cannot … you should;”
• If you are attacked abusively, respond by saying, “That’s not okay,” and walk away…….

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