Could you identify someone among your acquaintances who displays the traits of a narcissist? You might recognize them as someone who is supremely interested in their own accomplishments and has a bewildering sense of self-importance. Offer a negative critique and watch out! That narcissist is likely hypersensitive to criticism and may react in anger.
Narcissism has a great backstory: it was named for the mythical Greek figure, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection and couldn’t bear to leave the pool of water where he could gaze upon… himself. Narcissistic traits appear throughout the population (and only rarely manifest as the pathological Narcissistic Personality Disorder), so they are likely to affect, to varying degrees, some among our colleagues, bosses, family members, and friends. Or maybe ourselves!
How could narcissism affect our work life specifically? Wang, Zhang, Ding, and Cheng (2018) addressed this with an interesting question: will narcissistic supervision encourage employees to speak up? Or stay silent? They reasoned that the aggressiveness of narcissists toward negative feedback can lead to intellectual inhibition, in other words, stop employees speaking up when they see an area of improvement, out of fear for the narcissist supervisor’s negative reaction.
Not only did the authors find a positive relationship between supervisor narcissism and employee silence, they also discovered that supervisor narcissism led to subordinates developing negative anticipations (e.g., “My voice behavior would offend my supervisor”) which increased the likelihood of them staying silent.
These findings make sense; we aren’t usually inspired to open up to individuals who we know are self-absorbed, will react badly, or will not listen to us. What potential is lost in organizations where this behavior takes root! Wang et al. encourage organizations to take steps to avoid narcissistic supervision, and to ensure employees feel a sense of security in speaking up and develop trust in their leaders. Managers can be trained to display more positive traits and become effective leaders. A more stable and healthier work environment results.
Alex Cheyne | Managing Editor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal