Dealing with The Narcissus Syndrome

Posted March 6, 2014 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

They are infuriating, obstinate and self-absorbed. How do you deal with someone who obviously thinks they are the smartest person in the room…especially if they hold a power position!

First, the Syndrome.

According to Greek myth, Narcissus was the most handsome of men, the son (many said) of a god. Most who gazed upon him fell head over heels in love. Narcissus knew of his beauty and rejected all of the nymphs trying to court his favour. One day, a frustrated maiden prayed that he might know what it was to love and not have his affections returned. The goddess Artemis, who had been very fond of another scorned maiden, saw her chance and cursed Narcissus.
While drinking from a crystal clear pool, he caught sight of his reflection and became entranced with himself. He remained at the edge of the water, transfixed by his own beauty. Seasons passed and eventually Narcissus died there, a victim of his belief in his own beauty.We’ve all met a few folks (or companies) who suffer from the Narcissus Syndrome!

A while back, I came upon a nice summary of Narcissus symptoms (actually he was speaking about lawyers but it’s still applicable) by Juriscape CEO Harrsion Barnes.

  1. They are generally preoccupied with fantasies of limitless brilliance, power and success.
  2. They have an exaggerated sense of self-importance that is far from their actual level of achievement.
  3. They lack empathy and are unwilling or unable to identify with the needs or feelings of others.
  4. They are envious of those around them with strength they don’t have, and they believe that others are envious of them.
  5. They require constant admiration and approval.

The Narcissus Syndrome affects large and small company alike. Entrepreneurial ventures are particularly susceptible because they rely so heavily on the perceptions of the owner/founder. That individual wields two big sticks: the experience acquired while building the company and the ability effectively squash dissenting opinion. Too often, the company’s actions are directed toward the preconceived notions of the founder with disastrous results.

“It is the nature of these people and organizations to deny the reality of the other’s (the advisor or external environment) world, wrote the University of Virginia’s Richard Ruth. “There is an active move to try and destroy the facts supporting an alternate view in service of a soothing return to a narcissistic self-sufficiency.” And therein lies danger!

Here are some thoughts on how to deal with the Narcissus Syndrome.

  1. Stick with facts preferably generated by a trusted third party. Whether speaking to new information about the corporate environment or an individual, outside -in information is the most powerful. The objectivity offered by a trusted 3rd party will also increase believability.
  2. Be appropriately direct. Sometimes tact works. Sometimes, you’ve got to use a two-by-four to get attention. The more firmly entrenched the belief, the more difficult it will be to dis-lodge.
  3. Don’t go it alone. There is power in “we”. I often counsel leadership teams to step up as a group rather than try to tackle a leader one on one. While this approach in the negative, could be viewed as a mutiny, it is more likely to cause reflection on the part of the leader. And, of course it also is a smart self-preservation approach. It’s a lot easier to shoot the messenger if it’s only one person.
  4. Take the Narcissist out of their comfort zone. Subject experts are a great way to introduce new ideas or infuse knowledge into the mix and start the wheels of change moving. The use of case studies which illuminate similar challenges has the advantage of being both authoritative and non-confrontational.
  5. Use an individual with a close personal relationship or an outside trusted source to deliver the information. Using someone who has no skin in the game from a personal standpoint and who holds a position of respect or trust can often be very effective.

The last thought on the subject. Each one of us has probably succumbed to the Narcissus Syndrome at some point. The antidote? Be quiet and Listen!!!

[fancy_box]Today’s guest blog post is courtesy of Bruce Hunter at Lighthouse 360.[/fancy_box]

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