Which industries do you think attract the most narcissists?
According to a professor of psychology, Sam Vakninnarcissists are almost certainly overrepresented in education, the priesthood, show business, corporate management, the medical professions, politics and sports.
I always wondered why my time in corporate finance and education had brought me into contact with so many narcissistic individuals. I think this is part of the reason.
But why am I telling you this?
Well, because I dealt with narcissists day in and day out for ten years. As a result, I’ve learned some tricks that work, and many that don’t. I had to.
Today I share them with you.
Let’s dive in.
1) Take advantage of their desire for a good reputation
As is widely recognized, narcissists often have a deep-seated desire to be viewed favorably by others. As stated in a Huffington Post In their article they are ‘constantly concerned about how people view them’.
Knowing this is all well and good, but have you thought about using this to your advantage?
You can. And it works.
The point is to subtly steer narcissists in the desired direction by appealing to their desire for a good reputation. Ask questions like, “How do you think this will be viewed by your peers?” or “What would (a respected colleague or supervisor) think of this approach?” can effectively influence their decisions.
Additionally, you’re more likely to get a positive response if you put suggestions or feedback in the context of how it affects their image.
For example, if you need a narcissistic colleague to work together more effectively, you might say, “Working together on this project could significantly improve the way the team views your leadership skills.”
It’s about indirectly guiding them to consider the consequences of their actions on their reputation, and believe me, it’s much more effective than telling them what to do.
However, it is important to use this approach judiciously and ethically. The goal is not to manipulate, but to channel their inherent desire for good reputation into actions that benefit everyone involved.
2) Use subtle positive reinforcement
B.F. Skinner. Does that name ring have a bell?
Maybe you remember his famous experiment from your school days. If you don’t, here’s a quick reminder: By rewarding rats with food, Skinner effectively trained the rats to press to get up.
But why am I telling you this?
Positive reinforcement also works for narcissists (and Penny from The Big Bang Theory!). In principle it can work for anyone if done right, but it’s a particularly good way to deal with narcissists who can. respond aggressively to criticism.
Let me share an example with you.
During my time as academic director of an adult language school, there was a particular teacher whose need for constant recognition often overshadowed team dynamics. A direct confrontation might have escalated the situation, so I adopted a more subdued strategy.
When he implemented a teaching method that was effective, I made sure to make public comments along the lines of, “I have noticed that your approach in the classroom has been very effective, let’s all consider incorporating similar techniques.”
This earned him the recognition he sought and subtly encouraged him to continue making positive contributions. But perhaps more importantly, it made him more open to feedback and seemed to reduce his need for constant attention during group meetings.
The art of this strategy lies in its subtlety and sincerity. The point is to provide enough positive feedback to motivate desired behavior, without overemphasizing it in a way that can inflate the narcissist’s ego or appear unfair.
3) Use the ‘gray stone’ method
“Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.
Above quote belongs to the former Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. And when he wrote it, he wasn’t referring exclusively to how to deal with a narcissist. But that’s how we’ll use it today.
Sometimes the best defense against a narcissist’s manipulations is to become uninteresting, or what is known as the ‘Gray Rock Method. This tactic involves making yourself emotionally unreactive and unattractive, like a dull, nondescript gray rock or, as I like to imagine, a cliff that remains unmoved when waves attack it.
This method is especially effective in situations where you cannot avoid interaction, but want to minimize the impact of the narcissist. The point is that you become so uninteresting that the narcissist no longer has any interest in provoking you.
Imagine a scenario where a narcissistic coworker tries to engage you in a gossip-filled conversation. Rather than participating or even actively withdrawing, give neutral, noncommittal responses such as “Oh, really?” or “I didn’t notice.” Keep your tone flat, your facial expressions minimal, and your answers short.
By not providing the response or drama the narcissist is looking for, you effectively remove yourself from their toxic emotional playground.
4) Be a reflective listener
“We think we are listening, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, real empathy. Yet listening, in this special way, is one of the most powerful forces for change that I know.”
This insight from a renowned psychologist Carl Rogers underlines a crucial technique in dealing with narcissists: reflective listening. It’s a skill that, once mastered, can turn the tables on your favorite. Reflective listening involves really listening to the speaker and then reflecting back on what you heard.
For example, if a narcissistic person brags about his achievements, instead of trying to refute or debunk his claims, you might say, “It sounds like you’re very proud of what you’ve accomplished.”
This approach acknowledges their feelings without feeding their ego or starting a confrontation. It also gives you time to think and respond strategically.
It is a subtle art – the aim is to acknowledge with empathy, but without necessarily agreeing. This creates space for a more balanced and less confrontational dialogue. This method has been my go-to in countless interactions throughout my career, and has proven effective in disarming the often charged atmosphere created by narcissistic personalities.
5) Focus on facts, not opinions
In my early twenties, while working in finance, I had a colleague who was adept at twisting stories and turning opinions into seemingly irrefutable facts. He challenged the strategies I presented and stated his opinions with such confidence that they seemed like facts.
This is a tactic often used by narcissists, intended to assert dominance and sow doubt. But we can reduce its impact by focusing steadfastly on the facts.
In response to my colleague’s behavior, I learned that sticking to verifiable information was the best solution. I could calmly respond with, “The data shows a different trend,” or “Let’s look at the numbers together.”
Often, as was the case with this colleague, they have no facts at hand to support their fiction. The facts probably don’t exist. So what happens then? Nine times out of ten, the narcissist will withdraw because he wants to protect one of the things he values most: his reputation. They will come back and make excuses, but almost always they will back away.
Yes, this leads to confrontation, but sometimes it is necessary, especially in group meetings. None of us want to be seen as a fraud or have our hard work discredited.
But be careful. This method requires preparation and understanding of the details. It can be counterproductive if you don’t know your stuff.
6) Keep them in the dark regarding your personal life
Okay, so this isn’t so much of a ‘trick’. It’s more of a protective measure, but I included it here because of how crucial it really is. I learned this the hard way.
You may have noticed that narcissists are adept at using personal information to manipulate or cause unrest, often in subtle ways that can catch us off guard. It is therefore crucial to be selective in what you share. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what that is, but make sure you take it into account.
This approach helps maintain a professional boundary, protect your privacy, and prevent personal information from being misused. With narcissists, revealing less about your personal life often means protecting more of your professional integrity.
7) Know When to Walk Away (and Do It)
This is the last point, but certainly not the least important. In fact, it is one of the most important.
Through my experiences I have learned that sometimes the best course of action with a narcissist is to simply walk away.
Narcissists thrive on attention and response. When you realize that an interaction is going nowhere or is just serving to feed their ego, taking a step back is a wise move.
This may mean physically removing yourself from a conversation, moving to participate in a heated debate, or, in some cases, reevaluating your commitment to a project or relationship.
For example, if an encounter with a narcissistic individual becomes unproductive and hostile, a calmly stated statement such as, “I don’t think we’re making any progress here, let’s come back to this later” can be an effective way to get out of the situation. It’s about asserting your agency and choosing not to participate in dynamics that are detrimental to your well-being and goals.
Withdrawal is not defeat; it’s a strategic decision that can save you unnecessary stress and conflict. It is often necessary to stay healthy in environments where narcissistic behavior is common.
it comes down to
So there you have it, folks.
There are many ways to deal with a narcissist. We’ve covered many of these here at Hack Spirit, but these are the ones I’ve personally found most effective.
They might work for you too.
I hope this post provided you with some value, or at the very least that it was enjoyable to read.
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