The world’s most famous athlete and a two-time presidential contender both torpedoed their careers with their self-destructive narcissism. Tiger Woods referred to his ego- maniacal state as a “sense of entitlement” in his televised mea culpa. John Edwards outed himself as a narcissist in an ABC interview after he was caught cheating on his cancer-stricken wife.
Perhaps there’s someone in your world who’s narcissistic. You may find it challenging to communicate with a person who’s grown accustomed to being puffed up by praise and attention. Surrounded by deferential people – their power walls adorned with plaques – they’ve become bloated versions of themselves. How do you get your message across to a person with an inflated ego?
Let’s back up for a moment. You may not have put a label on their behavior, but here are a few clues to help you identify the egomaniac in your life. You can often peg a narcissist by their:
- grandiose sense of self-importance
- sense of entitlement
- craving for excessive admiration
- preoccupation with power
- lack of empathy
- judgmental, critical nature
- belief that rules don’t apply to them
- intolerance to setbacks or slights
- explosive anger when frustrated
Know anyone like that? Let’s set aside their vanity (and their sexual vitality in the case of our two high-profile narcissists) and focus on their behavior towards YOU when they get frustrated. Ever been the target of a narcissist’s anger or condemnation? Their once-charming personality morphs into melt-down mode. They lob verbal grenades at you and howl at the moon. It’s painful to be on the receiving end of their demanding, demeaning behavior.
Here are 5 quick tips to help you communicate more effectively with a narcissist:
- Give them options. Beneath their bluster, narcissistic people fear being left out of the loop. They crave control. It’s far better to offer them options to choose from, rather than feeding them ready-made decisions. They’ll tear other people’s decisions to shreds. Giving them options helps them feel respected and in control. It also prevents nasty hissy fits.
- Focus on solutions, not problems. When you explain a problem or a challenge to a narcissist, direct attention to the solution. Don’t allow them to dissect the problem over and over again. Narcissists love drama and revel in the chaos. They’re easily agitated when frustrated. Define problems and present possible solutions, so they don’t smell blood in the water and tear you apart.
- Make them the hero. Narcissists are preoccupied with power and truly believe they are special and unique. They live for attention and admiration. Want them to do something? Tell them how great they are at it and watch them perform. Better yet, praise their performance in front of others. Just keep it real, please.
- Let them think it’s their idea. Narcissists often steal the credit for ideas that aren’t theirs. Why do they do that? Strangely, they truly believe that hijacked results are their own. Grabbing credit is a driving force for them. If this gets things done, I say learn to live with it. Over time, everyone will catch on – wink, wink. Meantime, graciously transferring credit for ideas to them makes things happen.
- Manage their emotional blind spot. Egomaniacs lack empathy. They’re so caught up in their own world that it doesn’t occur to them to consider your feelings or viewpoints. It’s a huge blind spot. You must put your own feelings on the table if you choose to do so. Just be smart about sharing feelings with a narcissist. Brace yourself for the guilt trips and disparaging criticism that narcissists often dole out when others explain how they feel.
For those of you stuck in a tough relationship – either professionally or personally – I hope you’ll find these tips helpful and will pass them on to others who need them. I believe the key to communicating successfully with a narcissist is to smartly manage the relationship, not just cope with it.