Negotiating with Narcissists

I was teaching conflict last week and someone in the audience asked me how she should deal with her extremely narcissistical boss. I told her that where possible one should avoid conflict with extreme narcissists and sociopaths. Some conflicts are best walked away from if there is a reasonable acceptable outcome you can unilaterally impose without agreement. I always think it would be great if realtors had maps of where sociopathic neighbors lived….

Anyway to answer the question for when we have no option but actually have to negotiate with extreme narcissists, first here is the definition of what she is dealing with:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder‘A personality disorder characterised by an exaggerated sense of self importance, a tendency to overvalue one’s actual accomplishments, an exhibitionistic need for attention and admiration, a preoccupation with fantasies of success, wealth, power, esteem or ideal love, and inappropriate emotional reactions to the criticisms of others.’

From ‘The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology’ Reber et al

In my auto plant we used to call such folk, ‘legends in their own minds’. I had a number of bosses who were headed in this drection but none were actually that extreme. And my own take on narcissism is that it is actually failed self love. It is like a car tire on ice. It is constantly trying to self love but failing; hence the brittleness in the face of criticism. This insight always seemed to help me deal with these people because I looked at their behavior and something about my look punctured it.

However, if you don’t have that puncturing look in your cupboard, I guess I would work these folks using the usual interest based approach of the Creative Conflict Model and for any narcissistical or other position they take, ask them ‘why?’. Why do you want that? Now one of the things they want will be adulation and acceptance so maybe that becomes part of the negotiation, though I tend to avoid manipulation, with narcissists I might just make an exception. :)

Anyway, good luck with that…narcissists are better avoided if possible as per my first answer above. Oh and don’t date them if you can help it…and certainly not marry them as they are often assholes in the technical definition of people who always leave you demoralized after interacting with them. They want to be special and sure don’t want you to be equally special. They don’t trade specialness in my experience of them.

Prime narcissist: Richard Nixon:

130108_richard_nixon_ap_328

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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