NARCISSISM AT WORK: WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

[This article was originally written in June 2016 as a predictive exercise]  Of late considerable media attention has been given to a certain un-named (non-NZ) politician and some strong consistent characteristics, particularly around communication and response to criticism, that have been demonstrated by said individual. The terms in the media I have heard used to describe this person include that they are a bully and Narcissistic, and on the surface it is true there are some (at times alarming) similarities with what a psychologist might consider were narcissistic characteristics. Such characteristics are not the exclusive realm of politics, far from it. They exist across the world of work, and most often manifest in a minority of those holding positions of power and influence. It is not power and influence that creates such qualities, it is that individuals with certain traits are often attracted to roles of power and influence, or feel deserving of them. After all, if you really believe you're fantastic you're going to want a position that allows you to show that!  However, we also need to be careful of what I commonly see happening - diagnosis by media and public acclamation. We may see a glimpse of someone on television or through an interview on line, or judge someone by reputation and not personal knowledge. As repeated or emotional as they may be, those sources present only a portion of the facts, filtered through the lens of someone else. Narcissism is a classic example of that - a powerful collection of traits that becomes confused with other factors in an effort to explain and make sense of what we are seeing. So let's start with clearing up a few myths about Narcissism, by defining what it is in a broad sense, and then translating those qualities into what you could expect to see if you were dealing with someone who was genuinely Narcissistic at work (or anywhere else for that matter).  In broad terms Narcissism is a stable personality characteristic dominated by unusually high levels of self-love, self-regard, conceit, and egotism. It is way beyond self-confidence, not merely someone with who is aggressive, or someone who seeks attention or believes they are particularly talented or special in what they provide. There is a level of belief by someone Narcissistic that, without them, little can and will be achieved of any value - that they are irreplaceable. They seek admiration not just for what they have accomplished but for who they are, because the two are intertwined aspects of their personality. The focus of someone genuinely Narcissistic is on what can be achieved for them, how an endeavour makes them look in the eyes of others (those in positions of 'power' or 'influence'), and what is in their interests (if that aligns with the interests of others then that is fine but not a major consideration). Basically, it's all about them. They are the most intelligent, talented, original, creative and successful person in the room. Someone who is Narcissistic will believe that but they won't tell you it - because they already expect you to know. Hence the offense taken and dismissal of someone's intelligence of worth when that self-belief is not respected  People who are Narcissistic can lead very successful lives, have families, have friends, study, have a career and engage with society quite effectively. On the positive side they are confident, often charismatic (because of that confidence), have determination, are pragmatic, are goal-oriented, and have big ideas (often grandiose). They see nothing as being beyond them if they put their mind and will to it. Unfortunately, like any true pathology Narcissistic individuals have what I refer to as fatal flaws. These are flaws that, over time, leave a litany of destruction behind them as they pursue their goals and are 'fatal' not in the sense they are life threatening, but that they are beyond alteration or change with tremendous negative impact on many around them. Eventually, workplace Narcissists are discovered (or maybe uncovered or finally recognised) but not without considerable pain along the way. The following are the most common fatal flaws we can expect to see in the workplace by someone genuinely Narcissistic. 1) Narcissists don't have true friends, they have people who agree with them. And they are very loyal to those who agree with them....as long as they are useful. Friendship is based on mutual admiration, not acceptance of faults. Narcissists have no real faults in their own eyes - mistakes are due to the action of others, incorrect information given, or misinterpretation of the message. 2) Narcissists will learn not through personal recognition of a lack of knowledge, skill or character, but through realising they need to develop a new way to achieve what they want. In this they can be quite pragmatic and will adapt for those they see as their equal or superior and not for someone they see as inferior, which is most people. They see very few as their superior or equal. 3) Narcissists do not listen to others unless they are useful or in a position of influence. Respect for others as a basic principle is lacking and they often treat those below them differently from those they view as peers. They respect what others can do for them that aligns with their goals and perspective. 4) Narcissists struggle to apologise in a manner most would see as sincere. Apologies are provided rarely, grudgingly, and often with a caveat that reduces the seriousness of the incident they are apologising for or avoids taking complete responsibility for an error made (e.g. someone let them down). 5) Narcissists don't get angry they get even. Strong offense is taken against those they believe have done them wrong or harmed them, particularly in regards to their status, influence or authority. They hold grudges and see most criticism as personal. 6) Narcissists tend to employ those who agree with them, follow them, or who will not cross them. They value personal loyalty, will generally surround themselves with that loyalty when possible, and will reward personal loyalty as a consequence but often in an inconsistent way. 7) Narcissists are convinced of their version of 'the truth', irrespective of the facts or objective evidence displayed before them. Contrary evidence is dismissed as irrelevant, incomplete, or based on sources lacking credibility in their eyes. The narrative developed as a result reinforces a worldview that has the Narcissist at the centre.  Those seven fatal flaws are probably enough for any workplace to be mindful of.

NETWORKING FOR INTROVERTS

  ‘Networking’. It’s a word that can send shivers, or at least moderate apprehension, down the spines of some people. The very word for some conjures images of ‘working a room’, engaging in small talk with strangers, clinking wine glasses, attending social functions, doing deals and, for some, spending time in a space well outside ones comfort zone. Nevertheless networking is an important function of any venture, be it business or social. Knowing people, knowing what is going on in the market or a circle of interest, being able to pick up the phone and make contact with someone, and simply selling ideas and products through the people we know is a vital skill. It’s not one that comes easy to some, despite the fact it is important and can also be, personally, very rewarding. Many people will acknowledge that the networking event they were dreading often turns out to better than they expected. All it takes is one contact and one enjoyable conversation to make the time spent worthwhile.  Extroverts usually find networking engagements less confronting. Energised as they are by conversation, more talkative by nature, and more comfortable in crowds of people they seem, to their introverted colleagues at least, at ease. They’re not. Some are, true, but many aren’t. They just hide it better and have better natural skills at finding comfort in that networking space. So, in sympathy for my introvert networking colleagues, here are a few tips to help the introvert network more effectively and comfortably.  1) Find the ‘bubble’. Learn to be more comfortable than you currently are being ‘on your own’ in a room. This is difficult, I know, but a very important skill to work on. Don’t fast walk to the corner of a gathering where you don’t know anyone - saunter slowly. This allows to have time to listen to conversations, catch snippets of information, possibly see someone who know and segue over to them, and slows down your heart and respiratory rate. You’re also less likely to say ‘Excuse me’ as you pass by people, finding those natural gaps that open up in a crowd more easily. It’s OK standing on your own, watching and listening. There will be others doing the same. Head over to them and say hello. A few will like being on their own, but most will feel like you and be grateful that someone said hello. At the end of the day the true introvert is more comfortable with the one-on-one conversation anyway.  2) Piggyback. Attend evens with a presentation of some type. This gives you a reason to go and removes the pressure of having to talk in the ‘networking space’ beforehand. The presentation topic, presenter, or venue gives an easy opening for conversation with others, and gives you a reason for being there – learning. We network by ‘piggybacking’ off the learning experience we are there for.  3) Avoid solo flights. Simple - bring along a mate, a colleague, your partner. Fly as a team and engage together with others.  4) Remember that conversation isn’t about talking, it’s about listening. The art of networking isn’t about how many business cards you can get or give, it’s about making an impact on others and ensuring they are comfortable around you. Ask good questions, listen and follow up on what’s important to the others you are engaging with. People enjoy talking about what’s important to them as long as they feel safe to do so and people are interested. Get interested in others. They’ll carry the conversation and you’ll learn a lot. In general, they’ll also want to learn about you too and that’s a great chance to exchange business or contact cards and catch up afterwards to further the contact that’s been made.  5) Bring business cards – let them do some talking. How often have we forgotten business cards? In informal business cultures this isn’t such a big deal but in formal business cultures this is seen as unprofessional, as though you’re not prepared or aren’t serious. Keep half a dozen in your wallet. If someone gives you their card it’s an unwritten invitation, at least in Australasia for you to give them yours. Spend some time looking at it and reading the details, front and back. Don’t just put it in your pocket. It represents someone just as yours represents you. Respect it. There may also be details on it that can further the conversation.  6) Be clear on your goal. What are you attending the networking event for? Is it to meet people, learn, gain contacts, be there because your company has to have someone there, attend a presentation or training event? Whatever the reason it’s important you know what your goal is so that, no matter what happens, you know what you need to do to achieve it and whether you have or not. Time is valuable, don’t waste it.  7) Practice the soft introduction. Put simply I distinguish the soft introduction as one which doesn’t set any expectation of the other person. An example of a hard introduction (I use the term ‘hard’ figuratively to denote something which might require an extension into a discomfort zone for some) might be, ‘Hi, what company do you work for and what services do you offer?’ Not an unreasonable question but one that for some gets straight to business and implies an expectation of ‘correctness of response’ or else ones credibility is negatively impacted. An example of a soft introduction might be, for example, ‘Hi, I’m Jonathan. What did you think of ....?’ accompanied by a smile and some direct eye context. No expectation, just a friendly welcome. In most cases you’ll at least get the person’s name, some body language indicators showing relief that someone started the conversation, a handshake and smile back, and a chance to talk further.  8) Introduce your neighbours. This is very powerful, especially when you attend an event with others. If you know people who are with you introduce them to others in the group you are part of who don’t know them and, if appropriate, some context. For example, ‘This is Sam, he works at such and such’, ‘This is Anna, we came together and work for the same company,’ or ‘This is Brian, he’s down from Auckland [see Brisbane, Edinburgh, New York] for a few days on business and has come along to see how we do things down here.’ It’s a great way to include others into a conversation, take pressure of yourself, and be seen as someone who is inclusive.  Remember, the whole point of networking is to make a positive impact and gain name recognition or further opportunity for contact in some way. There are various ways we can do that and the above ideas are very useful tips for the introverted networker.

MANAGING GENERATION Y

  Despite the fact that Generation Y has been in the workforce for the past decade or so I still get asked how to communicate with, manage and understand todays ‘youth’. What is clear is that, for many of us, there can sometimes be challenges relating to those a generation or two different from our own.  I get asked, just as often, by todays under 30’s how to understand the perspective of a boss who is fifteen years or more their senior.  The truth is that there are greater differences in the workplace than generational ones, but that nevertheless generational differences are very real, and have a real impact on whether we understand, respect, and get on with those we work with.  In brief terms todays Generation Y’s (Gen Y’s) are those born between 1981 and around the mid-late 1990’s. There are varied opinions on when the cut off points are exactly and, like star signs (but with more scientific basis), some of us on the cusp have characteristics across two generational boundaries. The Gen Y birth cohort, as a result of social and technological change, parental influences and the like, have developed some very distinct characteristics.  Here are the TOP FIVE TIPS for creating a more engaged Gen Y employee.1) Get over yourself: A Gen Y wants a boss who is their peer.  They look for collaboration, joint decision-making, and a chance to have their say.  Their boss shouldn’t be remote and sit behind a closed door all day.  They want access, a chance to learn, and opportunities for the boss to share their knowledge and wisdom – providing they have Gen Y’s respect.  Let go of traditional views of autocratic leadership (if you have that habit) if you have a Gen Y team.  The buck may stop with you and Gen Y’s understand that, but along the way they expect to have a voice.2) Become a mentor or find one: Coming from an education system that has encouraged self-directed learning and a clear pathway to success (ie. receiving a grade or score that denotes success or absence of failure) most Gen Y’s respond to a senior individual who they believe can guide them, support them, and give some time to assist their careers.  Mentors are sounding boards, provide an opportunity to reflect on decisions made and decisions pending, and are valuable for Gen Y’s in being able to guide them through challenges at work, in their careers, and in their lives. So what if it means we start to customise our attention to the needs of an employee? It just means we get the best out of them, they stay longer and are more understanding of the business and what it’s all about.3) Include them: Almost everyone likes to have a say, and Gen Y’s are no exception.  They seek to be asked, involved, and sought out for their opinion.  They have ideas and want to share them.  They have knowledge that can be valuable.  There is a strong desire among many Gen Y’s to have their views listened to.  This isn’t the same as an expectation they will be agreed with.  Far from a burden on an organisation this is an excellent opportunity to identify new ideas not hamstrung by old thinking, and discuss with younger employees the why’s and why not’s of decisions made.  What better way to educate, show value for input, and encourage a continual desire to be curious and think?4) Give feedback: A myth about Gen Y’s is that they want to be praised and thanked all the time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, younger employees appreciate acknowledgement and recognition for contribution and effort made, as we all do.  But, what they are seeking is confirmation that they are on the right track.  This is not a sign of general lack of confidence.  Rather, it is a sign they value their time and a) do not want to waste it, and b) gain satisfaction by adding value and doing what is meaningful for the business.5) Embrace the ‘Why?’: Why is it that as we age we become less curious?  Gen Y’s ask “Why?” more than any other generation, and will probably continue to as they age as well.  After all, they’ve been educated to be curious, ask questions and challenge assumptions throughout the information age, and rewarded for doing so.  Unfortunately many older employees and managers interpret someone asking “Why?” as a challenge to authority or an established method, process or way of thinking about something.  The thing is, there’s another way of looking at the question “Why?”  And that is that Gen Y’s just want to know. They are curious to know why something is done a certain way – and that’s it! It’s not a challenge, it’s just a question.  And an invitation to educate and maybe learn something ourselves along the way as we try and explain or scrutinize an approach we are simply used to:) 

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF STAKEHOLDER AGREEMENTS

  Stakeholder agreements are a useful tool to aid the achievement of mutually agreed outcomes in any partnership, alliance or joint venture. Whether between business partners, commercial entities, investors, suppliers and consumers of goods, or a service provider and community user stakeholder agreements allow a framework that confirms the expectations of each party, protocols of operation, and goals or objectives shared by all and to which all parties are, theoretically, aligned. A good stakeholder agreement clarifies roles and responsibilities, informs planning and day to day operations, assists the management of risk, and aids constructive communication.  Every stakeholder agreement, however, is merely the start of a journey shared by all those involved. It is not a static document but one subject to changes in market forces and personal circumstances, alterations in financial interest, and movements in political and economic conditions. All too often excellent stakeholder agreements, and parties entering into such agreements with great intentions and a clear vision and understanding, come across rocky shores that with some minor planning can be navigated with reasonable ease. What are some key factors for stakeholders to keep in mind, particularly when constructive working relationships are key to mutual success, to get the best out of their stakeholder agreement?1.      Clarify what consultation and inclusion means. Of all the factors I hear most about that negatively impact most stakeholder agreements it is the dual issues of consultation and inclusion. Both are different but related. After all, if you have a ‘stake’ in something this is often interpreted as a degree of ownership and input into the process(s) undertaken, and what the final result and shape of the ultimate objectives looks like, irrelevant of personal direct investment or involvement day to day. Clarifying mechanisms of consultation and inclusion, means of communication, and key responsibilities of parties to the agreement plays a significant role in managing emotion, improving relevance and accountability, and reducing the twin challenges of unnecessary fear and complexity.  2.      Provide a mechanism to ensure key assumptions made within the agreement remain valid. Circumstances can and will change. An agreement highly relevant last year may need tweaking now as a result of unanticipated changes to factors impacting the original outcome. Regular review, every 12 months minimum (preferably more frequently), as part of business as usual will ensure a stakeholder agreement that remains current to the best knowledge and ability of the stakeholders involved. Minor alteration now amidst a culture of adaptability and continuing focus on relevance is preferable to radical change two years later when it is clear earlier modification would have been in all party’s interests and has impaired achievement of stakeholder goals.3.      Ensure a way to monitor and evaluate milestones and key measurables (both tangible and intangible). This provides a structured opportunity to evaluate progress, ensures sharing of outcome information relevant to all parties, and enables an opportunity for continued stakeholder awareness and involvement, no matter the level of ‘investment’ in the agreement itself. Sample questions might include, for example: What are our measurements of success? What are our key milestones and why have we decided on them? How are we tracking? What is our forecast and what factors are likely to impact that forecast in the short- and medium-terms? How are we ensuring continuing alignment of core values? How are we managing known risk factors?4.      Generate an opportunity to clarify core values held by different stakeholders at the start of the process. Clearly this is far more complicated for large and complex agreements between stakeholders with broad geographic, demographic, financial, and cultural variation and diverse objectives (e.g. between a public entity and a metropolitan community). However, it is this very appreciation of diversity and incorporation of it that aids the development of robust and enduring stakeholder relationships. Far more depth in values similarities and differences can be explored where stakeholder agreements exist between a few parties with relatively narrow interests (e.g. stakeholders in a financial investment or business opportunity), some significant personally controllable factors, and greater relative influence on the success and/or failure of the objectives the stakeholder agreement is designed to meet. This is referred to as the ‘Psychological Contract’ and relates to what assumptions and expectations we have regarding how others are likely to think (interpret information), act (information provided and actions undertaken as priority), and feel (the style or manner in which information is passed on or discussed and reaction to disappointment or disagreement). At the end of the day this is about identifying the hidden factors that can pull us toward (build trust) or push us away (distrust) from our agreement partners.

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE

  When we think of someone “difficult” to deal with we typically think of someone resistant, stubborn, disagreeable and unwilling to compromise. At work this might be the employee who regularly sabotages a meeting, a colleague who dominates the team by force of a critical and unsupportive type of personality, a manager who is autocratic and nitpicking, or a good old fashioned bully. People who are difficult, however, also include those who are overly submissive, passive-aggressive, ignore others, and are unmotivated and unwilling to take personal responsibility.  The most common workplace difficult people are the inherited problem, the bully, and the ego trip. The inherited problem is typically an employee who has been around for some time and is the dominant personality in the team, but who has learned that they rule the roost. Challenges to their authority are met with resistance, at times bullying behaviour, alienation of the party that offends them, and team politics. Often the team is polarised around their followers and the others. The “others” consist of those who oppose the dominant person and those who want nothing to do with the situation and have become desensitised. A new manager comes along, recognises the problem and tries to tackle it. Unfortunately the manager realises that the dominant person has everyone so cowed and unwilling to challenge them, even top management at times, that the new manager feels out on a limb. The inherited problem has learned that he or she has more endurance than the new manager.  The bully comes in various guises. Interrogation, intimidation, and passive-aggressive techniques are their favourite weapons of war. The interrogator is critical and fault-finding, focuses on details and not the big picture, is impossible to please, and their main form of attack is to undermine peoples’ sense of professional competence. The intimidator is personally aggressive in the way they use their body and voice, reacts with hostility to challenge and questions, sees compromise as weaknesses, is territorial and their main form of attack is to peoples’ sense of personal safety and self-worth. What their targets can do is not questioned but who they are – their character.  The passive-aggressive bully conquers through division. They are political animals. They can be nice one day and mean the next, and often attack when people are in a weak position and there are few witnesses around. They ostracise, criticise indirectly, and talk behind peoples’ backs but never to their face when others are around. It is this sense of unpredictability and unfairness, and the difficulty victims have in making others understand behaviour they are experiencing, that creates significant health and performance problems long term.  The ego trip has a deluded sense of their own self-worth, irreplacability, and importance to the organisation. They may be good at what they do, used to be good at what they do, or never were any good at what they do. The point is that their perception is their reality not matter what hard evidence others give them. They do not react well to those who do not give them their due respect, expect to be listened to, and expect to be acknowledged for their expertise. In their own words, “You don’t know how good I am at what I do.” Ironically they’re usually right but they way they go about it often means that their colleagues no longer care how good they are. The ego trip has lost perspective of what is negotiable and non-negotiable. That is why they argue over the smallest things, because to them they are hugely important and symbolic of their personal and professional status.  At the end of the day what unifies all difficult people is that they resist what we want them do either do or think and they do not want to, or are unable to, accept personal responsibility for their actions. In others words, nothing is their fault. There is always a reason for their bad behaviour, whether that’s a bully yelling at a colleague, an employee quietly sabotaging an initiative, or an impossible to please customer. Managing difficult people successfully requires an understanding of three key issues: the difficult person themselves, the situation at hand, and you.  People are difficult for a reason and understanding aspects of personality, background, history and expectations provide insights into what is motivating and causing a particular behaviour or pattern of behaviour. The situation at the time can generate a degree of conflict as a result of past experience in similar situations, the personal symbolism and meaningfulness of events for people, and the specific goals of the individuals involved. The final piece of the puzzle is you. How comfortable are you confronting difficult issues and individuals? What expectations do you have of people? What personal issues do you bring to a meeting or casual conversation that affects how you interpret what people say and do? In other words, how we interpret things makes a big difference to getting the outcome we want, even if that outcome is simply the desire to walk away calm (at least on the outside), not to second guess ourselves for hours afterwards, and sleep well that night. Let’s face it, not all difficult people go away and many can only be managed, which comes down to managing their impact on ourselves. For managers and business owners there are a number of strategies that help generate an environment where difficult behaviour is either lessened or makes management of it easier.   Firstly, select for fit as well as ability. The old adage that we hire on technical ability and fire on attitude is often right. Willingness to learn, accommodate others, communicate openly, and adapt to the needs of the team rather than the desires of the individual are all important characteristics. Together they minimise the selection of naturally difficult people and help create a group culture where difficult people are less likely to be tolerated.  Second, implement a thorough induction process where behavioural standards and expectations are made clear, alongside the consequences for breaching those standards. Doing so, provides little excuse for people to say they were not told what behaviour was appropriate or inappropriate, and removes the danger of making assumptions. In other words, assuming that everyone knows what is expected because it is “common sense”.  Third, manage behaviour as proactively and constructively as you manage performance. It is well recognised that the impact of a bully or resistant colleague on employee engagement, innovation, openness to new ideas, adaptability, and resilience has significant impact on staff health and productivity. Everyone who has any team experience knows that the difference between a team that gets on well and respects each other and one that does not is quite large. If managers and team leaders are expected to manage difficult people, then business owners and senior managers need to provide them the training and support to do so effectively.  Fourth, make standards clear and reinforce them. Tackle difficult or problematic behaviour straight away, as soon as you have firm evidence. Managing behaviour is problematic because it is grey and vague, subjective, and often un-witnessed by those in positions of authority but it can be done if behavioural standards are upfront and clearly understood by all. Get the advice you need and start communicating to the key people involved as to what behaviour needs to change, why it needs to change, and the consequences to the business and individuals of it not changing.  Fifth, up-skill key managers and get the right advice. Managers and business owners sometimes do not have the knowledge and skills to manage difficult people the way they wish they did. They may have the desire, but early experience teaches them that the cost can be high in terms of personal time and energy. The cost of mistakes can also be high in legal liability, ruined work relationships, the cost of replacing staff, and the ongoing impact of difficult people in influencing the development of a negative workplace culture.  With all this in mind it is also important to recognise that there is a difference between a genuinely difficult person and someone who is simply difficult for “you”. Lovers, friends, and workmates will always have debates, robust conversations, disagreements and at, times, be on opposite sides of the fence. Yet we would hardly describe those we like or respect as difficult in general. We understand that their perspective is not one we take personally and their communication with us reflects their understanding of our situation, willingness to listen, and consideration of a perspective different to their own. With genuinely difficult people, however, there is none of this.  A final tip – plan ahead. Just as a house can’t be built without a plan if you want it to survive more than a few years, the same principle applies to managing difficult people. Planning ensures you think ahead and remain objective. Have courage – and you may just be able to deal with those difficult people better than you thought. 

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