The Narcissist in the Conference Room
- Butter him up. Novelist Candace Talmadge says her former boss was like a little boy stirring up an anthill with a stick. "His favorite practice was to come into our offices late on a Friday with a task that took up the entire three-day weekend," she says. "Then he wouldn't come in on Tuesday, or he'd just drop the whole thing." If you want to put an end to such wasteful behavior, try flattery, a time-honored way to manipulate a narcissist. Talmadge could have countered, "Can we start next week? Without your guidance, we're lost on tough stuff like this." Of course, you'd have to stomach your own servility.
- Let her be the center of attention. Narcissists' self-confidence on the job has no basis in reality; in fact, one study shows that coworkers generally rate narcissists as below-average performers. However, they do tend to do well when all eyes are on them, and the opportunity to look like a star is ripe. Their immunity to self-doubt means that unlike most of the rest of us, they aren't afraid to be the center of attention. Stage fright isn't a big issue for these megalomaniacs. "For the average person, pressure gets in the way [of achievement]. But the narcissist is very happy in the moment of glory," says Baumeister. "It has to be glory, though. He's not going to be a team player." If you've got a Barry Bonds on your team, give him the chance to excel—and to be admired—and get out of the way.
- Be clear on the quid pro quo. When a narcissist is in charge, he'll feel no compunction asking for a lot and providing very little in return. "He's totally focused on his vision for the project; it's all about him. Make clear the rules of the game, because he's not going to play fair," says Michael Maccoby, a psychoanalyst and business consultant who authored The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Perils of Visionary Leadership. That way, if you work 70 hours a week to hit a deadline, at least you'll be compensated for it.
- Don't cross him. Entirely dependent on others' opinions, a narcissist can act like a cornered animal if he or she feels threatened. Research shows that narcissists become aggressive when they feel an ego threat—confronted with proof that they aren't special—or feel they aren't getting enough respect. In the lab, they are willing to punish other experimental subjects with a noise blast when they think they've been put down. If you have to tell a narcissist he isn't doing a good job, do it gently—and be prepared.
- Keep a sense of humor. One upside: Narcissists can be entertaining, if you keep a sense of perspective. Frederick Rhodewalt, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, describes one assistant professor who joined the department softball team. Although he had no experience with a ball and bat, his background in tennis gave him enough of an edge that he won the batting title for the league. "And for a few months, every time I saw him in the office, he'd be carrying that trophy," Rhodewalt laughs.
The Narcissist In Love
The Care and Feeding of a Narcissist
Your Inner Narcissist
The Hollywood Cure
- Relive one day a thousand times. (Groundhog Day) Self-centered, striving weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) finds emotional and spiritual growth after being trapped in a space-time anomaly.
- Get shot in the head. (Regarding Henry) A confrontation at a botched burglary transforms Henry Turner (Harrison Ford) from a lying, cheating, bullying corporate attorney to a charming innocent.
- Bond with your autistic brother. (Rain Man) Greedy go-it-alone Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) learns that he shouldn't exploit his autistic-savant older brother.
- Undergo hypnosis. (Shallow Hal) Hal (Jack Black) dates a string of beautiful vixens, then falls for an overweight woman while under Tony Robbins' spell.
- Be trapped by a sniper. (Phone Booth) Brash Stu Sheppard (Colin Farrell) is a philandering PR rep who learns what life is really about while in the crosshairs of a killer's rifle.