4) Ask Them, “What Would People Think?”
Narcissists don’t feel guilt, only shame. They’re all about appearances, right?
If they believe something will hurt their reputation, they will think twice. Al Bernstein explains:
If you are in a position to advise, ask what people would think. Narcissists are not stupid; there are just things, like other people’s feelings, that they rarely consider. If you have their ear, don’t tell them how people might react; instead, ask probing questions. Narcissists are much more likely to act on ideas that they think they thought up themselves.
Emphasize community and use disappointment, rather than anger, to keep them in line. They want to look good. So help them look good by helping them do good.
This piece is about how to deal with narcissists…well, what if the narcissist is you? It’s an epidemic, remember? And if you’re not a narcissist, you might be infected. As the studies show, plenty of others have been recently.
So how do you avoid becoming a narcissist—or stop being one?
5) Be Dexter
We all have some narcissism in us. It’s natural. And narcissism may work for you now but, as we saw, the odds are very very much against it bringing you success, good relationships and happiness in the long term.
So how do you stop being a narcissist or make sure you don’t become one? You need to make sure you maintain empathy for others.
Stop trying to stand out, get attention and be so darn special. Al Bernstein says:
Narcissists will be further damaged by just about any situation in which they are treated as different from ordinary people.
It’s O.K. to be ordinary. (And if that concept terrifies you, you are already on the narcissistic side of things, so read this piece on empathy now.)
Problem is, overcoming narcissism is hard and takes a long time. And if you’re a hard-working narcissist, it may be bringing you enough rewards in the short term to feel like it’s a good idea for the long term.
What do you do then? Redirect your narcissism.
I offer you a new role model: Dexter. Yes, the serial killer who kills serial killers. (I know, Dexter is a psychopath not a narcissist but, jeez, work with me here, O.K.?)
Dexter has a problem—a serious problem, no doubt—but he tries to be good.
Dexter acts ordinary. He struggles to develop empathy. And he redirects his impulses to do things that benefit other people. (That’s where the comparison ends. I’m not telling you to kill anyone, O.K.?)
This attitude (sans chopping people up) can produce results.
From The Narcissism Epidemic: “[i]f you can’t stop feeding the ego, you can align your narcissism with behaviors that help the community.”
I’m sure a lot of narcissists run charities. And they get lauded, praised and admired. I’m O.K. with that kind of narcissist.
O.K., let’s round this up and get the final secret on how to deal with the me-me-me people…
Here’s how to deal with a narcissist:
- Don’t. Think haunted house. Get out of there first chance you can.
- Kiss Up or Shut Up. If they’re your boss or they have power over you, fighting makes it worse.
- Know What You Wantand Get Payment Up Front. Don’t assume they’ll play fair.
- Ask, “What Would People Think?” They want to look good. If they think they’ll look bad, they’ll behave.
- Be Dexter. If the dark side of The Force has you, channel your need to look awesome into helping others.
In the long run, narcissists almost always lose. We see plenty on TV, but those are the very few that got lucky. And, trust me, they’re not all happy.
Stay away if you can, otherwise you will be victimized by them or, even worse, you will become one of them. When I spoke to Stanford professor Bob Sutton, he told me his number one piece of advice to students was this: “When you take a job take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with—because the odds are you’re going to become like them, they are not going to become like you.”
And if you spend more time with good people you will become, um, good-er. Here’s Yale professor Nicholas Christakis:
We’ve shown that altruistic behavior ripples through networks and so does meanness. Networks will magnify whatever they are seeded with. They will magnify Ebola and fascism and unhappiness and violence, but also they will magnify love and altruism and happiness and information.
Every chance you get, surround yourself with people who are good to you. And be good to them.
Don’t fight narcissism. Starve it.