Behind Performance Adjectives Series: Narcissistic

He is a Narcissist.  Can you fix him?

When I hear the word Fix I usually have to fight a smile.  Not a smile because something is funny, but a smile because that comment implies  people are like machines, and with a replacement part, some oil, and maybe a few ball bearings (for you Fletch fans) and they are good to go.  It is not that simple.

First, when a heavy label like narcissist is thrown out there, the first step is to get to what people mean by simply responding – “That is a big word that can mean lots of things.  Tell me a little bit more about what you  are seeing.”  If you look in Wikipedia here are some of the descriptors for narcissism:

  • An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges.
  • Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
  • Haughty body language
  • Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt

With such a range, it is critical to clarify what people are seeing first.

Secondly, realize that chronic mental illness is present in <6% of the population, and in any year 28-30% experience a mental or addictive disorder.  (see my past post:  Nobody Behaves Well In The Corner)  If you think someone has a mental illness, it is probably only temporary and there is probably a good explanation if you have the time to explore it and understand it.

Finally, if you have the time, a tool like the Birkman can help put words around what they are feeling (or missing) because the stress behaviors the Birkman identifies are often the exact things that lead people to believe that someone is a narcissist.  Here is an example of two stress behaviors under Challenge, which describes our self-imposed demands for achievement.

  • Too critical and demanding of self an others
  • Feels inadequate, fears failure

A slow recovery for a normal company results in the same phenomenon as a fast growing company – do more with less.  That tension creates stress with people by itself, then throw in life (death, divorce, job loss) and we have recipe for lots of behaviors that get labels like narcissistic, crazy, or nuts.

Step one is not Fix it.  Step one is just to get it on the table to better understand it.  Tools like the Birkman help that conversation.