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Could you spot the traits of narcissism?

Professor Birgit Schyns

Have you ever had the feeling that some of your colleagues are working only for them and not for the company or for the team? If your answer is yes, then it is possible that you are working with a narcissist, says Professor Birgit Schyns from NEOMA Business School.

Narcissists have a heightened sense of what they are entitled to and have a constant need for attention and admiration, Schyns warns. They are arrogant and see themselves as superior to others.

“In a work environment, their interests are not compatible with those of the organization, but exclusively for themselves,” she says

But how can we identify these traits in the people around us, and moreover, what should we do after identifying them?

Well, firstly, Schyns states that narcissists will falsely claim or take credit for undue contributions within the organization. As well as this, they may react aggressively after receiving negative comments and criticize the source of the comments, whilst also acting for personal benefit without considering the consequences for others.

Managers who notice these behaviours among their employees should talk about it with this person immediately, and check in with other members of the organization with whom he or she interacts,” says Schyns. “Don’t wait for a performance review to do this. Actively seek 360-degree feedback on the person. Your perception may be just the tip of the iceberg and if there are other potentially problematic behaviours, it is advisable to be especially vigilant.”

Fellow colleagues who detect abnormal behaviour should also talk about it, she says. If it has only happened once, maybe it was just a misunderstanding, but if the case has happened several times and involves different people, then this is definitely an issue to deal with.

“You really have to pay attention to promoting such people. Because you might have even more problems once these people have more leeway, more responsibility, and their own followers,” says Schyns.

She advises that, in many cases, training can also help employees who behave in this way. Narcissists can have a lot of strategic influence in organizations. However, if managers limit them – with checks, balances and performance feedback, for example – they may not have the opportunity to express these characteristics.

This is based on research from the ‘Academy of Management Perspectives – Shady Strategic Behaviour: Recognizing Strategic Behaviour of Dark Triad Followers’, co-written by Birgit Schyns, of NEOMA Business School, Barbara Wisse, of the University of Groningen and Durham University Business School and Stacy Sanders from the University of Groningen.

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