Disruptive behaviors come in many forms. Whether it’s arrogance, distraction, obsessiveness, or manipulation, such behaviors call for consistent, compassionate intervention to create a healthy, high-functioning workplace.
You probably find at least one person in your workplace difficult. If you’re like most people, though, you haven’t said anything to them about it. While it’s typical to try to avoid such individuals, it’s also counterproductive, particularly in the workplace. So explains psychiatrist, author, and specialist in workplace relationship dynamics Jody J. Foster, M.D., MBA. As she writes in her book, if left unmanaged, disruptive behaviors can infect your workplace like viruses, influencing and demotivating others. Using broad generalizations and tending towards oversimplification, Foster’s categories of difficult personalities are intended to make it easier for you to identify, understand, and manage the eponymous “schmuck” in your office. Despite her book’s funny title, however, Foster warns against using her book “simply to stick a label on the people at work whom you find difficult and then dismiss them forever as sick or lost.” Instead, she wants you to use her categorization to try to understand the people you find difficult in a nonjudgmental way, so you can hopefully empathize and interact more constructively with them. Below is an in-depth exploration of four of her categories of difficult personalities ubiquitous at work (for a complete list, please see the box “Every type of difficult personality”).
Managing the Narcissus’ need for positive reinforcement
Typical behaviors from an office Narcissus in- clude self-praise; only wanting to talk about themselves with little interest in hearing about you or others; belittling of you and others; blaming you and others when things go wrong without recognizing their role in the problem; fishing for compliments; anger in response to criticism; a sense of entitlement; and a sense that the rules don’t apply to them. The Narcissus can initially possess a magnetic charisma, but this “veneer of allure” tends to shatter when you realize that, in fact, they only really care about themselves and their own success. Foster reports that her psychiatric research shows the Narcissus personality type to be particularly suited to climbing organizational hierarchies, which partly explains the abnormally high rate of Narcissus in leadership positions. When dealing with a Narcissus, it’s key to remember that their seeming arrogance in fact masks deep insecurity. “Everything he does is to appear big in order to hide feeling small,” Foster explains. “As easily as a balloon can burst, the Narcissus can be reduced to his true emotional size, and he will go to great lengths to avoid this eventuality.” It’s also important to keep in mind that this type is prone to throwing you under the bus if it will serve their interests. At the same time, understanding that their problem behaviors stem from their fragile egos puts you in a better
position to help them improve and grow. Foster provides the following checklist of effective ways to deal with an office Narcissus:
• Provide praise and compliments to help them not feel threatened and reduce the risk of angry outbursts
• Sandwich requests, suggested changes, or criticisms in between compliments to increase their receptivity
• Always respond as quickly as possible to their requests and invitations and avoid igno- ring them
• Avoid putting the Narcissus in a position where they could take credit for your work or disparage you for their own gain
• Encourage them to consider the perspectives and emotions of others
• Consider implementing structural interventions, such as rewarding teamwork over individual efforts
• Frame interventions or suggestions for change as a way for them to achieve leadership goals, as opposed to addressing their flaws