How to tell you're working with a narcissist

Q. One of my resolutions this year is to be a better judge of character of those I work with. I'm often unpleasantly surprised by the bad behavior of bosses, employees and customers. Since you are a people skills expert, I wanted to know if there was one emotional quality you look for in people?

A. Yes, I look at whether someone I am considering working with or for has the capacity for gratitude. Narcissism and gratitude are mutually exclusive emotional patterns, so if you evaluate a person's ability to be appreciative you automatically will avoid people with a lot of narcissism.

When psychologists evaluate a client on narcissism, they are actually diagnosing whether a person has a personality disorder. Most normal people wouldn't qualify for the diagnosis of a narcissistic personality disorder, but many people are rather self-absorbed and have little empathy for others.

The word narcissistic gets used a lot by regular people to mean everything from a person who cares too much about their hair to someone who doesn't agree with their point of view. People who fit the actual diagnosis of narcissists are not vain or difficult; they are people who literally feel no empathy toward others.

So when you are evaluating someone at work, you are better off to ask detailed questions about whether they are grateful. Now just coming out and saying, "Hey, dude, are you appreciative?" won't get you much data. Here are the kinds of questions that will tell you mountains about whether you are dealing with a person who will behave well at work:

Have you ever had an amazing mentor? What did they do for you and how did you respond?

Do you consider yourself a person who enjoys long-term friendships or do you prefer the excitement of always making new friends?

Do you think you have had good fortune or have you often ended up in difficult situations?

Do you change your mind a lot or once you make a decision do you stick with it?

What these kinds of questions indirectly get at is whether the person in front of you is loyal, notices kindness, and seeks to repay those who help him or her. People who are capable of feeling gratitude and noticing support tend to be fabulous to work with and for.

Keep in mind the one major mistake that most people make in evaluating other people is taking other people's behavior personally. The truth is that people act the same with you as they do with everybody else. You really aren't someone special who will be treated badly or well because you deserve it.

When we spend hours of time trying to figure out what we did to make someone help or hurt us we are completely missing the point. The real point is this: People who treat others well will treat you well because it is how they roll. People who treat others badly will treat you badly, because it is their habit.

Don't make the classic mistake of failing to find out the character of the person you are dealing before you are dependent on them treating you well. And nothing will reveal more about their character than a clear picture of whether they walk around with a sense of entitlement or a sense of gratitude!

The last word(s)

Q. I work with a guy who constantly smirks when you talk to him. I want to smack him upside the head. Is there a way to get him to knock it off?

A. Yes, let him know that his face tends to look like he is smirking and that you feel certain he wouldn't want to convey contempt. You'll discover a positive assumption works far better than a verbal smack to create change.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

(c) 2014 INTERPERSONAL EDGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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