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Home » Managing A Narcissist: Ann Barnes at TEDxCollingwood (Transcript)

Managing A Narcissist: Ann Barnes at TEDxCollingwood (Transcript)

Ann Barnes

Here is the full transcript of Edica Naturals’ CEO Ann Barnes’ TEDx Talk: Managing A Narcissist at TEDxCollingwood conference.


Narcissist. It sounds nasty, doesn’t it? Like an open, oozing sore, painful to experience. Social narcissism reflects our current cultural reality. Its growth is an increasing challenge to businesses worldwide. The word ‘narcissism’ stems from Greek mythology Narcissus, a young hunter and an exceptionally handsome man, one day, tired from hunting and heat, he lies by a splendid spring. As he is drinking the water, he sees his beautiful image. He falls madly in love. He refuses to drink for fear that his lovely image will disappear. In time, he wastes away, still enamored with himself. And his death is marked by the growth of a single flower.

A narcissus. In our unmythical world, we are surrounded by these selfish, thirsty beings. Like our parched Greek friend, they are addicted to feeling special. Admiration is everything. And if left unchecked, this cyst boils over into feelings of entitlement, blame, overrating one’s abilities, lashing out at criticism, arrogance and bullying, with very little room for empathy.

You all know one! You might even be sitting beside one! You might even be one. Well, one thing we know for sure is that their numbers are increasing [“ME-llennial”]. A thirty-year study reviewed the narcissistic and empathetic traits of college students. In the 1980s, when the study began, the numbers were pretty good 30 percent showed high traits of narcissism, with 70 percent showing traits of empathy. 30 years later, into our millennial generation, the inverse is true. They found that 70 percent of the students had high narcissistic traits, and only 30 percent had traits of empathy.

This is not to suggest that all millennials are narcissist, but it does tell us that the tendencies are much higher than generations that have gone before. Why do we care about that? Well, because 40 percent of our current workforce are millennials. In 2030, this number is going to go up to 75 percent. This is a real challenge. But not all narcissists are created equal.

There are special ones. They’ve estimated that one percent of the population – that’s one in a hundred – are pathological. These people have narcissistic personality disorder. They are ‘insecure sociopaths’. I like to equate them in the plant world as an invasive species. They don’t really fit into any environment system, especially a work one.

Next in line is our extreme narcissist. It’s estimated that this is between six to ten percent of the population. These people are very special too. Although not pathological, they are extremely toxic. I like to equate them to a poison ivy. They’re best left alone and untouched.

The next grouping is our garden variety. These people aren’t so bad. They’re the mild-to-mediums. And with a little bit of management, a little bit of cultivation, a little bit of care, they can have very good qualities. They can be incredibly driven. They can be very engaging, very charming, confident – and quite honestly – they can get stuff done.

Now, nobody really knows exactly why this growth of narcissism has occurred. But the speculation is that it stems from our individualistic and introspective post-war culture. This has also changed parenting techniques, where kids are micro-managed while the parents are missing in action, where praise is given to raise self-esteem and every kid gets a trophy. Also, there’s no free play. And instead, we have a very early adoption of and exposure to media. So regardless of the cause, these people can be extremely difficult to employ and even harder to work for. But they’re not going away.

So how do we, as business owners, as managers, leverage these challenging personalities, to ensure that we have successful businesses and positive working environments? The first step is to hire accordingly. In this situation, you must know that these personality types exist. You must watch for it. By doing so, you can help to screen and weed out those 10% – the pathological, and the extreme narcissist. We know that those personality types are extremely toxic and unproductive in the workplace, even as leaders.

Additionally, when you’re screening, you need to identify not only the job skills that are required, but the personal skills that complement that job. By doing so, you can actually use the strengths of these personalities to your advantage. We know that they’re extremely persuasive. We know that they function well as islands in and of themselves. We know that they can be very engaging, and they’re also extremely dedicated. So by marrying the personality skills with the job itself, you can ensure greater success.

Next, define your environment. You must lead and empower the leaders. If you don’t lead, the narcissists will. Weeds grow in cracks, so make sure you have strong leadership. Additionally, create a clan-like environment. This is a team cohesive spirit, the greater good rules. Make sure you have a group. Group success is your measurement for all individuals. By doing so, you can ensure a much greater, powerful workforce.

Google and Facebook are brilliant at this. Additionally, they need to be fed. And they need to be fed constantly and frequently. We need to water them with praise. We need to give them raises and incentives, again, frequently, not as a lump sum.

Again, we need to appraise them as well and give them constant feedback on how they’re doing. And nudge them, and keep them in track with the group goals. Finally, we need to create a supportive work environment, not only for the narcissistic personalities, but for everybody else. By doing so, you can ensure that there is good communication, and if there is behavior that’s offside, that it can be checked quickly, and without any kind of penalties to those people reporting them.

Next, you need to clearly set your expectations. Not only defining the job skills required, but the overall workplace behavior that’s acceptable to you. The more specific you are with examples, the better off you are. This, again, has to be reinforced frequently. People need to be reminded that this is actually what is required.

Next, there’s accountability. Accountability at all levels. And, again, people need to be reminded that confidence does not necessarily equal competence. Documentation is also important as a protocol for this type of personality. We know that narcissists tend to be highly litigious. So you need to protect yourself, your employees and your business by documenting poor work behavior and clearly advising what next steps are.

Last but not least, there needs to be a clear disciplinary process in place. This needs to be applied at all levels, from the CEO down. It needs to be consistently applied, and there’re no free passes. By doing so, you can increase morale in the company itself and have consistency in the application process. By following these three steps, you can effectively leverage these challenging personalities and cultivate an environment where all employees and your business can bloom and thrive.

Thank you.

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