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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #98
(October 27, 2020)

How Some Employees HIJACK Your FEEDBACK (and what to do about it) [Part 2]

A month ago, I committed to continuing our efforts in building a workplace culture that is much more open to constructive and developmental feedback—what I refer to as Feedback Receptivity. In Part 1, we covered how to deliver feedback when people are stressed out and under pressure.

In Part 2 (this issue of CORE Bites), I will cover the (significant) impact of Vulnerable Narcissism and hypersensitivity on feedback receptivity. To do this, I'll need to delve into a little bit of psychology to define what is meant by "vulnerable" narcissism and why—based on dramatic increases in its prevalence within the workplace—we need to be better equipped to handle this sneaky and deceptive form of narcissism. Do I have some capability to speak to this subject? I hope so ... the overarching theme of my doctoral dissertation was feedback receptivity. More specifically, my two-year research study investigated the impact of narcissism on employee willingness to accept feedback. Maybe not an authority on the topic, but I'm pretty certain I can offer a few gems along the way ...

[Note: The next couple of paragraphs may get a little heady, but I promise to make this worthwhile.]

Outside of the workplace one can avoid, or, at least, reduce to a minimum, having to deal with the socially toxic characteristics of the narcissist. However, people within organizations need to work together, often involuntarily, to accomplish the goals of the organization. So the impact of narcissistic manifestations, such as high levels of entitlement, extreme self-importance and self-centeredness, feelings of superiority, hypersensitivity to criticism, and defensiveness, can be especially deleterious. With the tremendous increase in levels of narcissism being reported, the likelihood of working with a person with narcissistic tendencies is much more likely in our contemporary workplace settings.

I'm pretty sure each of you has a mental image of the prototypical narcissist. So what is "vulnerable" narcissism? In many aspects, the vulnerable narcissist acts similarly to the garden variety narcissist, however, there is one major differentiator—while overt narcissists insist they are superior and believe others see them this way, vulnerable narcissists believe they are superior but others FAIL to see them and/or acknowledge them in this same way (the "I don't get no respect" syndrome).

In essence, this exaggerated—and unwarranted—high level of self-regard makes them emotionally vulnerable to constructive criticism because any constructive criticism contradicts the superior image they have of themselves. Vulnerable narcissists frequently exhibit an almost-obsessive concern about how favorably they are viewed by others while rejecting any evidence to the contrary—they frequently frame themselves as victims in interpersonal conflicts while painting the other party as a perpetrator rather than someone with a differing opinion or legitimate grievance. In the vulnerable narcissist's world, it's always someone else's fault. Vulnerable narcissists also feel entitled to more empathy than they're willing to show others.

Why am I so concerned about the vulnerable narcissist in our midst? In a nutshell, my concern is informed by my frequent observations that the covert nature of the vulnerable narcissist's approach to working with people can make their destructive behavior more difficult to recognize. The HVAs below should help.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today), pay particular attention to both verbal and nonverbal clues that will help you identify someone with vulnerable narcissistic proclivities. Use the following HVAs to help reduce the adverse impact this person's behaviors can have on you and on others:

  • Watch out for Prince Harming!: During the initial few days and weeks of any new relationship, such as during an interview and subsequent onboarding, or when this person is first introduced to a team, the vulnerable narcissist can be very charming and unobtrusive—even a refreshing break from the normal competitive tone that frequently dominates workplace conversations. But when the first nondeliverable from this person occurs, then the undermining (or sabotaging) remarks characteristic of the vulnerable narcissist begin, along with a pronounced victim mindset where the whole world is out to get them. The appropriate action here is to act immediately with a 1:1 to help this person understand the appropriate—and expected—behavior. This dysfunctional behavior needs to be extinguished quickly or else it will fester. Remember, by doing NOTHING, you're actually doing SOMETHING to performance!
  • Beware the Chameleon-Like Personalities: Vulnerable narcissists are incredibly good at shifting their personality based on who they're with. In essence, if you can benefit this person in some way, they will treat you like a best friend. However, if you are—in any way—a threat, you need to be very mindful of any subversion and/or undermining tactic that may come as a result. This is just common sense, but, in my experience, these total shifts are red flags of something deeper so they warrant additional focus. Vulnerable narcissists are also very talented in using false humility and shallow apologies to get what they want. Don't get taken in.
  • Create the Motivation: An important point is that the vulnerable narcissistic person will rarely change for YOU, or because of anything that YOU do differently. He or she will only change if it serves his or her purpose. So this should serve as a clue to your next step. Motivation is defined as the difference between where someone is and where they'd like to be. This gap serves as a motivating influence for a behavior shift/change. Get to know what's important to these individuals as it relates to their career and/or any other factors that you think would motivate them. Then use some ingenuity to create a motivational 'gap' that requires them to temper some of their narcissistic tendencies to achieve their goal.
  • You Have Mail!: Contrary to what I normally recommend, when dealing with a vulnerable narcissist it is far better to keep your correspondence electronic. They can be skillful manipulators when they have you one-on-one (whether in-person or on a virtual video call) so my recommendation is to try and keep as much of your conversation in an email format. This also serves as a paper trail in the event you need it.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"Narcissists rewrite history to escape accountability."

— Karen Salmansohn —