Monday, April 09, 2012

Research update: What happens when you challenge a narcissist?

Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. ” WH Auden

As the dangers of narcissism (NPD) in the workplace (and the courtroom) become more obvious, the research into its manifestations becomes both more interesting and more useful. A recent study examined the behavior of normal and narcissistic job applicants in their initial interviews. Narcissists scored much higher in their initial interviews, primarily because their tendency to self-promote, their ability to engage the interviewers, and  to speak at length (about themselves, of course) conveyed confidence and expertise. At first glance, this style is quite successful, as these folks are really good at self promotion. None of this is news. What is news is what happened when the interviewers challenged the self promotional "puffing".

When challenged, the normal applicants tended to back down from their exaggerated claims of expertise. Not the narcissists. Rather than back down, the narcissists "doubled down"; they increased their efforts to look better! The narcissistic response to being challenged was "Oh yea, you want to challenge me? I am not just good, I am great!" My take on  this "unexpected" response is this: Any challenge to the expertise, knowledge, success, power, or brilliance of a NPD is perceived as a narcissistic insult, and must be defeated by a display of GREATER expertise, knowledge, success, power or brilliance. The response is to being "questioned" is both automatic and predictable.  NPDs protect their image at all costs. They have to.

In the context of family law litigation, this response to being challenged is evident every day in hearings and depositions. NPDs, who are usually but not always men, dramatically exaggerate their parenting skills, their career successes, their financial acumen, and their legal "expertise" in their self-serving testimony. When challenged by opposing counsel, they don't make admissions; they make even greater self-serving exaggerations. The reactions of their long-suffering spouses to these courtroom fabrications is equally predictable: they fear that once again everyone will be taken in by the NPDs gift of believable but factually distorted self promotion and that the case will be over before the lies can be uncovered.

The practice tip for family law attorneys is this: whether the NPD is your client or the other party, pay close attention when their self-promoting pitch is being challenged--if the response is "Oh yea, let me tell another story about how wonderful I am", an NPD is loose in your case, and truth will be hard to come by. Be very skeptical of ALL their testimony or you will get burned. Nothing is more important to an NPD than their image. Nothing.

Reference: University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2012, April 2). How do I love me? Let me count the ways, and also ace that interview. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from­/releases/2012/04/120402144738.htm

No comments: