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Laws of Power 23: Identify Narcissists’ Tactics

By Karen S. Walch

Although classic power assumptions about functional egoistic self-interest were developed in the context of historical statecraft, Machiavellianism, for example, has developed into a common framework relied upon in many business and personal negotiations. It has become so prevalent that today some social and personality psychologists describe those individuals who tend to deceive and manipulate others for personal gain as narcissists. In the 1960s, the MACH-IV test was developed to measure a person’s level of Machiavellianism. Maybe some of you have taken it! People scoring above 100 are considered high Machs and those who score below 60 are low Machs. This week’s law will address some of the personality research on egoism and narcissism as a way to more clearly understand how the pursuit of egoistic self-interest impacts negotiation tactics.

In Laws 15 to 20, we explored how to redefine self-interest in contemporary complex and interdependent negotiation situations, from egocentric to sociocentric. Law 23 will advance our understanding of those who habitually rely on egoistic and narcissistic tactics when the nature of the negotiation relationship requires more sociocentric approaches.

Today, we will look at what egoism and narcissism are, how to identify narcissists’ negotiation tactics, and how to respond as a result.

I speak often with negotiators about the necessity to understand narcissists who control and manipulate others, conceal their intentions and use negotiation tactics to prey on psychological and strategic vulnerabilities.

Many negotiators find the tactics of egoistic negotiators very difficult to respond to. Machiavellian negotiators tend to be solely motivated to maintain and enhance favorable views about themselves. It is often difficult to respond to a negotiator who places themselves at the center of the negotiation with no direct concern for others.

Andy, an executive I worked with recently, described a recent egoistic counter part as someone who is conceited, steals by denying others’ interests, and exploits the cooperation and ignorance of others.

Other negotiators say that an egoistic negotiator is often coercive or sometimes fraudulent. Nevertheless, practicing negotiators know that egoism differs from both altruism and socio centrism because the process and the outcome of the negotiation is at the expense of those who the egoist exploits.

Some negotiators have more extreme stories of egoistic tactics which can be categorized as narcissistic. There is some scientific debate about whether narcissism is a clinical pathology. For our purpose here, I will use the Diagnostic and Narcissistic Manual of Mental Disorders definition which states that narcissism is a personality disorder or NPD.

A narcissist is described as excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power and prestige. It is also defined as excessive self-centeredness with a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.

Jacqueline, a real estate broker, recently described a situation where her seller client, was self-absorbed, demeaning, demanding, and had unreasonable expectations of the market situation they faced. Although she had worked with many strong-willed and egoistic clients before, this individual exhibited not only one or two characteristics of a narcissist, but consistently demonstrated them all as we explored an analysis of her situation.

As Jacqueline learned more about narcissism, she noted that this client had an unrealistic sense of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. Her client was preoccupied with how special and unique his circumstance was and that his sense of entitlement was unreasonable given the level of service she had provided to him.

She became frustrated with the way he exploited and took advantage of her with his arrogant and disrespectful tactics.

Jacqueline developed ways to interact with her client and she demanded little from him and expected little, she listened very carefully to elicit good information about his concerns; she gave him positive recognition, and even insincere acknowledgement and praise.

She noticed that the client had a very low tolerance for frustration and she eventually avoided challenging his demands. Even after all her smiles, patience, forbearance and focus, her client still was not realistic about her commission.

At this point, Jacqueline confirmed that she was negotiating with a narcissist and she recommended that he look for another broker.

The responses Jacqueline utilized are ways to respond to a narcissist’s tactics. The emotional capability of patience can enable negotiators to potentially keep a client when others may just drop out initially. Forbearance is an ability to see past a narcissist’s boorishness, selfishness, self- centeredness, and arrogance toward a valuable agreement.

It is fundamental that you know precisely what you need and want in the negotiation, in addition to a focus on what the narcissist wants.

There is, however, another way to respond to a narcissist in a negotiation. That way is to not negotiate with them at all, and focus on alternative ways to protect your own interests and security.  Some psychologists assert that it is naive or ineffective to “handle, manage, contain, or channel” a narcissists tactics. Narcissists are, by definition, incapable of teamwork and constructive relationships.

Narcissists lack empathy, are exploitative, envious, and feel entitled. Often their grandiosity is extreme, but their accomplishments and reciprocity are meager. Because narcissists dissemble, conspire, destroy, and potentially self-destruct, their vision is rarely grounded in reality.

If your negotiated outcome requires a functioning human relationship, such as a client-broker, agreement, then any engagement with a narcissist will result in a calamity for you. Therefore, in the long run there is no sustainable benefit by negotiating with a narcissist.

Characteristics to observe for Law 23

Here are some signs to look for when identifying narcissists’ tactics:

1. Self-absorbed and lacks empathy. Acts like everything is all about them and is uninterested in you or others.

2. Entitled and demanding. Makes the rules, breaks the rules, and is aggressive about what they want.

3. Perfectionistic and conceited. Have rigidly high standards for you and lord their superiority over you.

4. Seeks own adoration and is unremorseful. Demands constant praise and recognition, but will never offer genuine praise or apologies.

Extra Credit

For more information, read Sam Vaknin’s Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (Narcissus Publications, July 2001).

48 Laws for 21st Century Global Negotiators: Join Thunderbird Professor Karen S. Walch, Ph.D., as she explores the laws of power for 21st century global negotiators. Each Monday she discusses one law and provides an exercise to identify and enhance individual negotiation power. Go to the main menu for the series.

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