Narcissism in the workplace

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We intuitively attracted to people who are like us. The “birds of a feather flock together”; saying has some validity to it. Additionally, if people are different from us we try to mold people in our own image. You may remember the story of Narcissus. He was a handsome young man who one day fell in love with his own reflection in the river. His preoccupation with his own looks dominated his time and his thinking.  He was so absorbed with himself that he did not respond to a potential romantic interest, Hyacinth, who was a beautiful maiden. 

Hyacinth did all in her power to get his attention but nothing worked. Due to neglect and lack of interest Hyacinth wept and ultimately died of loneliness and a broken heart. The local goddess had pity on her and turned her into a flower. This story cuts to the very core of our vanity and self-centered behavior. If someone looks like us, acts as we do, and share our values, they must be OK because we are OK. If they speak our language and share our interests we are on our way to creating chemistry instead of conflict. 

People like people like themselves. This is fundamental. It is human nature.  This axiom applies to color, culture, background, financial status and other interests and affiliations. We have an affinity for our own image. We are in the cloning business to some degree. We are comfortable with ourselves and anyone like us must be good. We apply this rule every day as if it were an insurance policy. It is apparent in all human encounters and relationships, even during job interviews and performance evaluations. 

Narcissism became clear to me when monitoring the recruitment activity of my sales team. I noticed that each manager was hiring a certain type of sales person. I could meet a new sales person and almost pick the team they were on and their manager. I decided to follow through on a hunch to validate my suspicion. The company administered a personality profile as a part of our recruitment process. Inside the form were two pages. On one side the candidate was asked to select words others used to describe them. On the next page, they were asked to select the words that they felt were true descriptions of their personality. A correlation was made between the two sets of words and a score was generated which was matched to a personality profile.

I asked a group of managers to:

  1. Complete a different personality profile on words that described their ideal sales representative
  2. Compare it to their personal personality survey taken a month earlier

Needless to say, many of my managers shared the same profile as the person they felt was the ideal candidate. The numerical ratings were the same. My managers were essentially looking for themselves in the recruiting process. 

Another fact of life is that companies have a dominant culture and tend to hire people who reflect their culture, values, and beliefs. Therefore, companies like people who are like most of their employees. People who succeed in these organizations match or confirm to a certain profile. If the companies see the need to diversify for business purposes, they may not create the inclusive culture necessary to capitalize on the benefits of diverse ideas and teams. There is a powerful force bringing people into compliance if they wish to coexist with others within the culture. 

Pursuing employment with a company involves learning the company culture / profile and determines if the company is a good match for you. Are there others like you thriving in the organization or are people who challenge the status quo perennially relegated to the lower rungs of employee development programs?  If the company is what you are looking for, you need to prove that you are like them in values, beliefs and levels of performance. 

Be yourself is a common pearl of wisdom distributed to job seekers. The intent is that we must be true to ourselves in order to deliver your best performance in an interview. Additionally, this increases the chance of enjoying the job when hired. You are an authority, an expert on your strengths and weaknesses.  Relying on reality should improve your ability to present a factual and believable interview and if you decide not to take the job you can be comfortable with the decision. 

Being you in an interview is valuable when interviewing with the right company. A company that has the right environment will enable people like you to grow and flourish. Many of us have had to be someone else in an interview to get the job. “Give them what they want to see and say what they want to hear has been our mode of operation.” However, there is pressure in maintaining the masquerade.  The charade requires an enormous amount of energy and can place you under tremendous stress. The constant fear of discovery or the reality of living a lie, gradually takes its toll.

Remember, Narcissism exists in people and in companies, through their culture. Do not be discouraged if it seems that you outwardly do not match the company or the individuals on staff. You may have to walk away from the opportunity.  Sometimes a job is so great that you are willing to gamble, hoping that it will become the right fit. Understand the risks involved. Strategies can be developed to show affiliation on some level. Preparation is the key. Research is mandatory. If you cannot be a clone, you may have to leave the job alone and find an acceptable match if not your perfect job.

Copyright © 2010 Orlando Ceaser

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