Beware the narcissists…

I’ve just finished reading Office Politics by Oliver James.    He is one of my favorite writers and, like his last book Affluenza, Office Politics was a fascinating read.   However, it’s not for the faint-hearted, this book lifts the lid on the machinations of office life.

But don’t worry it’s not all doom and gloom, he does give a number of useful tips on how to survive and thrive.

The book is divided into two sections:  ‘Coping with Toxic Colleagues and Professions’ and ‘Improve your Office Political Skills’.

I’ve spent over twenty years in office environments so I will confess that my blood ran cold when reading some of the examples of the sort of people who seem to get to senior positions with remarkably little talent but plenty of emotional baggage (to put it lightly) but that’s the exciting challenge of corporate life – you have to work with, round, through and behind these people to deliver on the objective.

The book focuses on three toxic traits – Psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Narcissism.   What I had not appreciated is that often an individual will exhibit all three of these ‘triadic traits’ – just one is more dominant than the other.      I’ve been ‘privileged’ to work alongside people who have exhibited all of these traits and for the record I found the psychopaths and the Machiavels the most rewarding.   Sure they were tricky and had to be handled with care but, by and large, they tended to be very good at their jobs (perhaps I was just lucky) – they were also interesting.   There is seldom a dull moment with an office psychopath around – you are never quite sure which personality is going to walk into the meeting – so that keeps you sharp.   As for the Machiavels – as long as you are with them on their quest then things should work out just fine.Office-Politics-How-to-Thriv

That leaves the narcissists, and it’s those I want to focus on simply because they are, in my opinion, the worst people to work with.    Their objectives are never those of the organisation or the team but only themselves.  It’s “Me” in the morning, “Me” in the afternoon and usually “Me” all night.      James opens his chapter on them by saying;

“Narcissism is an inflated self-estimation, imagining yourself to be cleverer or more attractive or more powerful and compelling than is truly the case.   Whilst often charming extroverts, such people are uncomfortable with warmth, intimacy and commitment in relationships.   They go to great lengths to boost their value in the eyes of others by ‘me, me, me’ attention seeking, taking credit where it’s not due, courting high-status trophy partners and friends, and chasing public acclamation.”

That last point in interesting.    You often find that the most dangerous place to be with these people is between them and any form of potential media coverage and any article or piece of coverage they are involved in usually presents them as heroic individuals rather than the brand or matter they should be talking about.

The ‘triadic theme” comes up here;

“For narcissists to be successful, the Machiavellian component of the triadic trait is vital.  Without that, they simply come across as Toad of Toad Hall, a grandiose fantasist.  For them to take the practical political steps to convert their ambitions into reality, they need cunning.    Unless deeply concealed…their self-aggrandising tendency is all too plain to see.”

That is, however, a blessing and once you penetrate the very thin and usually very brittle (smiles one minute and screaming the next)  veneer it’s just a question of working out what keeps them happy.   A lot of pandering and stroking usually.   Which is great for them, helps you in the short-term but at what cost to the business ?

You can see why I loved this book so much – it’s a roadmap to dealing with obstacles, the human kind.

What makes James such a great author is the level of research which goes into his work.   This one is based on over fifty interviews and it’s the inclusion of real examples which makes the lessons all the more valid.

If you work in an office – go buy !


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