Making a Narcissist a Team Player

When narcissistic individuals are part of a team, they can introduce a range of challenges, from disrupting unity to stifling collaboration.

Narcissism, characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, can significantly impact team dynamics and performance by grabbing all a manager’s attention. Coupled with a lack of empathy for others, chaos can ensue.

Individuals with narcissistic tendencies cause chaos by dominating conversations, belittling co-workers, resisting feedback, and manipulating situations to their advantage. Their behaviors erode trust and make other team members feel undervalued, decreasing morale and productivity. In the process of controlling the team, they can incite conflict as narcissists are often unwilling to compromise or consider other’s perspectives.  

As a manager, you play a crucial role in addressing the behaviors of the narcissist or narcissist-leaning dominant individual.  

Fostering an environment that values empathy, mutual respect, and collaboration can mitigate the effects of narcissism. Encourage team activities that require cooperation and understanding. Highlighting the importance of each team member’s contributions can help in diluting the narcissist’s dominance.

Another tip for neutralizing a narcissist is to provide constructive feedback privately and with caution to minimize defensiveness and encourage cooperation.  

In private, ask the question, “Sarah, do you want the morale on the team to be better or worse?”

When she enthusiastically exclaims, “Better, of course” then proceed with an exact example of what you want her to improve. Something like this may work: “Do you remember in our last meeting when Darrel was trying to explain his position and you took over the conversation?”

“Yes. I knew where he was going, and I disagreed. I saved us time by interrupting him.”

“I’m not sure he really intended to go where you took everyone. I would like you to let the other team members fully explain their positions or opinions before you interrupt them.”

Pause for Sarah to comment.

At this point there will probably be a “dance” in the conversation since you cannot predict what Sarah will say and you need to use your emotional intelligence to move the conversation to a positive conclusion which would be Sarah recognizing that “We” not just “Me” means that every team member needs the psychological safety to express their viewpoint and be heard.  

Notice this constructive feedback focuses on specific behaviors rather than personality traits.

The next step is to emphasize the interdependence every team needs.

For instance, a basketball team may have a star, but that star can’t carry every game by himself or herself, most games are an interdependent team effort. In a similar fashion, the successful conclusion of a project requires the strengths of every team member, not just the confident narcissist.

Knowing that narcissists like to win, you can:

1-  Leverage their desire for success and admiration by framing team achievements as a reflection of their own leadership and insight. Set a collaborative tone where each member’s contributions are regularly highlighted and celebrated. When a team member achieves something notable, present it in a way that connects to the narcissist’s input or strategy, even if tangentially. This approach not only makes them more receptive to acknowledging others’ strengths but ties the success of the team to their self-image, subtly reinforcing the value of collective effort over individual grandstanding.

2-  Illustrate how acknowledging and leveraging the diverse strengths of their teammates can lead to greater recognition, success, and ultimately, enhance their status in the organization. By demonstrating the direct correlation between team performance and their personal accolades, you create an environment where the narcissist sees value in supporting and promoting the contributions of others.

3-  Foster a culture of feedback within the team. Encourage a system where constructive feedback is freely given and received, including by the narcissist themselves. By integrating positive reinforcement into regular interactions, it becomes part of the team’s dynamic, making it easier for the narcissist to participate in recognizing others’ strengths without feeling that their own shine is diminished.

Over time, incorporating these points, conversations with not just narcissists, but all team members can lead to greater cohesion, more productive team dynamics, and team success.

All team members, not just the narcissist, will move from Me to We!

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