Coaching a narcissist employee is a difficult task because they find it difficult to accept and act on well meaning advice. But, they can also be your most valuable employee, well worth the effort to learn how to mentor them effectively. Let me share with you my experience effectively coaching narcissist employees.
The most effective way to coach a narcissist is by leading them to a greater vision of themselves. Begin by developing trust and fostering a collaborative rapport. Lean heavily on their successes and amplify what is already good about them while letting the bad wither away without comment.
Learning to coach a narcissist effectively is a skill that may be quite removed from how managers are typically taught to mentor employees. However, this type of mentoring is ultimately effective for many types of employees, not just narcissist. Here are nine essential points for effectively coaching narcissistic employees., and a few things to avoid as well.
Throw Away the SMART Goals
I learned SMART goals in management courses, and at the time they were considered the holy grail of setting employee expectations. Do not use SMART goals with narcissists you are coaching.
SMART goals are defined as —
- Time Bound
The problem with smart goals is that they create a condition for failure. And, failure brings about the worst behaviors of narcissist. Many of which I describe in detail in my previous article —
Instead of smart goals, create an image of the ideal employee with your narcissist mentee. This is similar to goal setting, but it focus on success rather than fear of failure. And, it gives your employee leeway for creativity and free expression, which brings the best out of narcissists.
Let the Narcissist Set Their Own Course
When you mentor a narcissist, start by discussing what they want. Unlike many employees, a narcissist will have a clear vision for the future, and won’t be shy to tell you about it.
In reality, a narcissist will always be working on achieving what they want to achieve, whether you know what that is or not. They will be a “team player” only so far is it benefits them personally. So, you might as well know what the want.
As the mentor, use this opportunity to –
- Understand what the narcissist wants
- Find ways that their drives can benefit the team
- Collaborate with them to build a shared vision of success that benefits you both
A skilled mentor will be able to subtly lead their mentee through gentle questioning. Ideally, the narcissist will feel like they are running the meeting, and that they come to whatever conclusion on their own. Never noticing the guidance that you give which lead them in that direction.
Be Accepting to a Fault
Criticism causes narcissists to shut down emotionally. Narcissistic personality disorder, at its core, stems from a subconscious feeling of not being good enough. All of their preening and public appearance are a game to try to numb and counteract this feeling they have.
Thus, any form of rebuke will cause a uncontrollable reaction which closes the door to positive interaction with a narcissist employee. While they may appear just fine, they may ultimately never forgive you.
If you do need to give them are strict rebuke, I do have some tips on how to get this done effectively here.
Otherwise it is best if a narcissist knows that when you are mentoring them, they can do no wrong. Try to take on the mindset of a saint or guru, and love them no matter what they do. Accept them for who they are and hope that they become the best of what they can be, rather than mired down by the faults of what they are.
Above all, do not take the tone of a critical parent. As, this tone often brings back traumatic memories from narcissists, who usually are the product of bad parenting during childhood.
Clearly Define when You are Coaching a Narcissist, and when You are the Boss
If you need to balance the roles of boss and mentor, it is beneficial to clearly define when you are doing one or the other. Both you and the narcissist employee should know exactly when you are take one or the other role.
- Choose a special meeting room or set of chairs when you are mentoring
- Mentor at a certain time of day regularly
- Don’t sit behind a desk (which can elicit feelings of being judged)
- Employ particular lighting, sounds, or scents only during mentoring sessions
- Wear clothes you would not wear otherwise (casual clothing for instance)
Because mentoring a narcissist is so reliant on rapport and psychological safety on the part of the narcissist, these subliminal clues make it faster to build on previous successes you’ve had.
In particular the sound and scent idea works wonders. Smell in particular is the best sense for bringing back past memories. We’ve all had that experience of coming back to a place we haven’t been in a while — grandmas kitchen for example — and having the smell of the place cause a cascade of memories to fill our heads.
By associating a certain smell with mentoring, both of you will more easily slip right out of the competitive work mentality and in to a collaborative mentoring state that you develop over time.
Lead Them with Targeted Questioning
Avoid making hard defined statements when mentoring a narcissist. The narcissist is more comfortable when they feel that have control.
Instead, use the Socratic method and use questions to draw the truth out of employees. While more time consuming, questioning is many times more effective with a narcissist, who will not accept what you say about them just because you said it. They must come to conclusions on their own in order to internalize and act on them for real results.
Meet the Narcissist Employee Where They Are
It may bee that the narcissist employee has a completely different set of values, goals, and assumptions than you do. Don’t be tempted to set the agenda or move them faster than they are willing to go.
When you loose the trust of a narcissist, you usually loose their respect forever. Narcissists harbor resentments forever, and must be treated very gingerly when you are pushing them to excel.
Accomplishment is the point where their ego is bruised, making narcissistic employees hypersensitive to even gentle prodding.
Instead, I start by —
- Showing interest in what they think, feel, and believe
- Empathize with their position
- Collaborate with them to see how they can take small steps forward
Just taking the time to hear them, and understand their perspective can have a powerful positive effect on a narcissist. They will want to live up to your their expectations of them self in order to not let you down.
Don’t be do driven or directed with your mentoring time. Instead, set aside a certain time frame and let it grow naturally. As if you are planting a seed, and just waiting to see what will grow from it.
Don’t Bring It Up When They Miss the Mark
One all to common phrase I heard when I was taking business management courses was, “You did not meet expectations when you …” Do not use this phrase on a narcissist employee.
While it may be effective with some types of employees to clearly describe to them what they are doing right and doing wrong, this does not work for narcissist. Narcissists have difficulty confronting failure.
If you bring up where they fall short, they will deflect, blame, or play the victim. None of these reactions bring about positive change in the narcissist. And, may ultimately sabotage your efforts at mentoring by destroying your rapport with the employee.
Spend Time Teaching Communication and Interpersonal Skills
A skill that many narcissists lack is the ability to communicate effectively and emotionally with other people. They are stick in a game or role play vying for attention and praise.
When I mentor a narcissist, I continually try to model effective communication as taught by the Non-Violent Communication System. Spending time to build this skill by showing them how they could use it in particular instances at work, as they arise, is worth every minute in terms of how effective of a team member the narcissist employee can became.
The basics of NVC are:
- Observation — use specific statements of fact, devoid of judgment
- Feelings — follow up with statements of your feelings on the subject (avoiding judgmental or accusative forms)
- Needs — State your needs separate of the means of accomplishing those needs
- Request – that the individual help you, but do not demand it
I find NVC to be an invaluable for dealing with difficult situations effectively, and your narcissist employee will likely benefit greatly from learning it as well.
Lead with How You Feel and Encourage the Narcissist to Do the Same
Narcissist have trouble dealing with their emotions, and spend a lot of time repressing how they feel. While you are not there to be a psychologist or therapist for them, it can be beneficial in a work environment to model truth and openness to each other.
Expressing your true thoughts and emotions openly and unfiltered shows the narcissist a healthy way, and goes a long way to rebuilding rapport.
I remember a talk I once heard from a citizen of the former USSR, who was discussing why Russians are so blunt and almost rude when they speak. He said, it was because back in the times when every third person was an informant for the KGB, you knew you could trust someone who said whatever came to their mind without a filter. Such a person could never have an ulterior motive.
While, we won’t necessarily go to this extreme, by being raw during a mentoring session and exposing ourselves a bit, we speed up the rate at which our mentee will trust us and come to benefit from our counseling.