How to Spot Narcissistic Employees

Contrary to popular belief, narcissism isn’t necessarily a negative quality in the workplace. Like any other characteristic, it has its strengths and weaknesses. Narcissistic employees are usually charismatic, motivational and good at uniting others to achieve common goals.  However, they are also usually poor listeners, sensitive to criticism and highly competitive. Consequently, leaders need to be able to identify narcissistic employees to train them to enhance their strengths while managing their weaknesses to help set them up for success.

But, before you can help narcissistic employees, you need to be able to identify them. According to ScienceDaily, narcissism is “a personality characteristic that can involve grandiose exhibitionism, beliefs relating to entitlement, and exploiting others.”

 So, how can you screen for narcissistic employees before the interview?

A new Open Psychology Journal study indicates that looking through employees’ social media for selfies and images is a good starting point. Swansea University and Milan University researchers recently discovered a connection between selfie and image posting on social media and increasingly narcissistic behavior. The researchers monitored personality changes in 74 participants aged 18 to 34 during a four-month period.

The study assessed participants’ social media use, including Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, and found:

  • People who used visuals excessively in their social media posts had an average 25 percent increase in narcissistic behavior.
  • Per the measurement parameters of the study, this increase pushed many participants past the clinical cut-off for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
  • Participants who used Twitter and other social media for verbal postings did not exhibit excessive narcissistic traits. However, the more narcissistic they were going into the study, the more verbal postings they made as time passed.

Phil Reed, a Psychology Professor at Swansea University, believes there is a link between narcissism and the use of visual postings on social media.  He stated that before this study was conducted, it was not known if narcissists use this form of social media more, or if the use of social media has perpetrated a subsequent growth in narcissism. The results of this study show that posting selfies can increase narcissism.

How can you spot narcissistic employees during the interview?

Some narcissistic employees will make their excessive self-interest abundantly clear from the word go. However, most are obviously going to hold back their less than desirable traits to make a good impression during the interview process. Furthermore, narcissists generally make spectacular first impressions, confusing the situation even further. Fortunately, there are some behavioral patterns that can expose a potential employee’s inner narcissist even if they are on their best behavior.

  • Personal pronouns – A group of leading U.S. psychologists found that the amount a person uses the first person singular (I, my, me) compared to how much they use (us, we, our) is a red flag for narcissism.
  • Extremely positive and extremely negative words – Narcissists tend to refer to themselves and their actions with exceptionally positive words and disparaging language when speaking of others.
  • Victim words – Narcissists overwhelmingly see themselves as superior but also as victims. When referring to negative experiences, narcissists will paint themselves as the victim of the situation and sidestep any accountability, pinning the blame on others.
  • Appearance – Not all people who take exceptional care of their appearance are narcissists, but most narcissists pay special attention to their appearance. They also tend to use material items to externalize high status.

While narcissistic employees can make fantastic contributions to productivity and work culture, leaders need to be able to recognize these individuals to properly leverage their strengths and minimize their weaknesses straight out the gate.

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