If you’ve ever had to manage, or work with, a narcissist you’ll know how it can sap your energy and drain team morale. Most are obvious, but what about the less obvious introverted narcissist? How do they behave and how should you treat them in your team? This article examines signs of covert narcissism and 8 steps to manage introverted narcissists in your team
What is a narcissistic person?
Narcissists tend to have an overly strong sense of self worth (possibly even entitlement), an excessive need for admiration and attention, and a history of doing things to benefit themselves. They also tend to lack empathy for those around them.
Most definitions of narcissism include phrases like arrogant, self-centred, manipulative, and needing (or demanding) admiration (except Narcissists call it respect).
Psychology Today looks at two dimensions of interpersonal behaviour:
- Agency – getting ahead and attaining social status.
- Communion – getting along with others and maintaining warm relationships.
Narcissists tend to be high in agency and low in communion (Furnham, Richards, & Paulhus, 2013).
Examples of narcissistic behaviour.
Examples of narcissistic behaviour at work could include:
- Very interested in their promotion and their social status
- Exaggerate their abilities and importance when talking to others
- Unwilling to be questioned (it’s taken as a challenge).
- Expecting very high levels of loyalty, praise and possibly adoration.
- Difficulty in accepting feedback, let along implementing it.
- Disinterested in other people‘s opinions
- Using positional power to maintain control, or trying to control others using fear, guilt, shame, or manipulation
- Exhibiting extremely competitive behaviour.
- Taking personal credit for the work of individuals or the team.
- Wanting to be with high-status people (they probably call it networking, but it’s not as we know it)
- Insist on having the best of everything (e.g. car, computer, desk space)
Classic narcissists appear assertive, arrogant, and full of confidence. In reality they are normally anxious, suspicious, and sensitive.
How does a narcissist act at work?
Narcissism can be toxic at work. Narcissists often look for leadership roles, after all they consider themselves superior and “entitled” to the respect that goes with the position. As Managers they may appear callous, overly demanding, and disrespectful to other employees.
What’s an introvert narcissist?
It is possible to be an introverted narcissist. Narcissists tend to be high in agency (want to get ahead and attain social status) and low in communion (not good at maintaining warm relationships). Add a preference to think internally and not being keen to socialise, gives you an introverted narcissist. Some also call them covert narcissists.
All narcissists are self-obsessed, but some may not appear confident of their own greatness although they still believe in it and manipulate their way towards it. Introvert narcissists may appear in need of help and rescuing, using neediness or victimhood to get the attention they desire.
Introvert narcissists tend to be less showy and recognisable; they meet their needs though subtle manipulation and control. Being introverted they may seem caring and helpful, getting others to trust them and talk secrets to them. The control elements comes later as they have “inside knowledge of you” to manipulate you into feeling indebted.
5 Signs of Covert Narcissism
- Very sensitive to criticism. They’re likely to overreact, specially if they’re criticised in public.
- Passive aggressive. That’s lots of eye-rolls, sighs, and impolite yawns, for starters.
- Will be self-critical, perhaps to extreme (so you support them)
- Hold grudges, for a long time. They’ll probably refer back to things which everybody else forgot about years ago.
- Suffer with envy, which they may keep quiet. Unlike the classic narcissist who is always telling people how good they are, the covert narcissist expects you to see how good they are and is envious. That envy can boil over and explode, as it’s been trapped like a volcano.
- Project their insecurities: Covert narcissists are even more uncomfortable with their insecurities than classic narcissists. They’ll do things to make you feel off-balance, or insecure, so they feel more in control.
Dealing with narcissism at work.
If one of your peers is a narcissist and displaying damaging behaviour towards you, it’s time to protect yourself.
- Don’t engage in gossip with them, even if they share things with you.
- Understand gaslighting and watch for it. This is especially important with covert narcissists.
- Don’t take things personally, the issue is them, not you.
- Set clear boundaries. Make clear statements about the behaviour you will, and won’t accept from them. Consider your own feelings and what you need to stay happy and healthy, and communicate your needs. This could involve limiting the time you spend helping (in English that’s stroking their ego). Make sure they know these boundaries, then they’ll see their control tactics don’t work on you.
- Document offensive behaviour and breaches of those boundaries.
- Be assertive. You have the same rights as they do.
- Speak to your manager, if needed and get their help.
How to manage introverted narcissists in your team
A narcissist can become toxic and affect your team’s performance and even company culture. If you’re noticing issues, or your team members are complaining, you need to deal with the problem.
- Document the behaviour: Holding people to account and it being clearly factual is important., You have to deal with their behaviour, probably more than their performance.
- Check with others: If others have the same view, it’s not you getting it wrong!
- Communicate your concerns: They’re on your team and deserve to hear your honest and direct feedback.
- Set clear boundaries: Managers need to set boundaries especially with things like angry outbursts, name calling, dominating conversations or meetings. If you’re their manager it would also allow you to track of how often they overstepped the line. If team members complain of their behaviour, get them to do the same. You and your team member then have clear examples of when they cross the boundaries.
- Police the boundaries: Having set the boundaries, it’s important to monitor them and deal with transgressions..
- Clear, agreed expectations. Narcissists will push what they can get away with at work and consistently be wanting promotion or more recognition. Agree what needs to happen, write it down and don’t accept them pushing the boundaries
- Talk to other managers: In a large company narcissists often survive by moving quickly across departments. This means their old boundaries and control measures get reset. They may even play one department (or manager) off against another, thus deflecting from their own performance. Communication, consistent documentation and application of performance policies is vital.
- Move them to a less team oriented position: If possible, moving them to a role where they can affect the team less, can allow time for control measures to take place.