Trying to navigate a relationship with a narcissist can be a difficult feat. While narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is rare, affecting less than 1% of the general population, most people demonstrate narcissistic tendencies over time.
Narcissism is marked by many traits including a lack of empathy, grandiose thoughts and behaviors, entitlement, and a strong need for validation. These traits make healthy communication and negotiation a challenge, which can lead to frustration and eventually ruin relationships. One of the major characteristics of a narcissistic negotiator is the tendency for them to overestimate the power of their position and underestimate the power of yours. This can lead to continued misunderstanding and escalation in conflict.
Admiration Vs. Rivalry
Both admiration and rivalry can play a part in how narcissists interact. Both of these traits contribute to the maintenance of a grandiose self-image. It has been shown that narcissistic traits are great for building relationships in the short-term, but are disastrous in the long-term.
A research project in 2017 found was conducted to look at the admiration behaviour vs. rivalry behaviour in narcissists. This admiration was defined as the promotion of positivity in the person's self-view. Rivalry was the tendency to protect their self-image by being negative towards others. They found that it was tendency towards needing admiration that was what helped narcissists build relationships in the short-term. However, it was the tendency towards rivalry that cause relationships to break-apart over the long-term.
It is likely that this dynamic also occurs in negotiating. In the short-term relationships can flourish, but it would be expected that negotiations would also elicit strong rivalry tendencies that could produce negative acrimonious interactions. This fluctuation between these two sides could also be disorienting for the participants and observers.
What Should You Do?
When dealing with someone who tends to show narcissistic characteristics, it is important to make sure you are able to protect your self-esteem and your feelings. If you have a relationship with someone with NPD or with someone who often shows narcissistic traits, here are a few communication tips to keep in mind:
While you can neither control nor change the actions and thought patterns of someone who behaves narcissistically, remember that you are in control of your own actions and feelings. If you feel a conversation is leading to an unproductive argument or spiraling out of control, take a step back and think about how you can stay in control of the situation. Do your best to prevent frustration on your end from negatively influencing the way you communicate with the other person. Avoid building a negative case against them in your mind or lashing out in anger by taking control of your own thoughts and actions.
Avoid Unhealthy Conversation
You might be tempted to feel negatively about yourself when communicating with a narcissist. A narcissist might display little to no empathy for your feelings or try to blame you for a conflict. While it is frustrating to solve an issue with someone who refuses to take responsibility for his or her own actions, it is important for you to remember the big picture: you are in charge of your feelings, and you do not have to give this person power over your sense of self.
When negotiating with a narcissist begins to seem one-sided or the other person stops listening and is no longer interested in a healthy dialogue, you can stop the discussion. Communicate your feelings with the other person and express that you would prefer to continue the discussion at a later time when he or she is ready to listen to and respect your feelings. Even though a narcissist might feel entitled to your time, energy, and praise, they are just one person, and you do not have to give them every single thing they want just because they demand it from you. You do not have to sacrifice your self-esteem and energy to communicate with a narcissist.
Become Aware of Narcissistic Tendencies
As you spend time with a person with NPD or narcissistic tendencies, be sure to make note of the character traits they exhibit that might lead to unhealthy communication between the two of you. By becoming aware of these traits, you know when to stop a potentially unproductive conversation or disagreement. This will also give you a starting place for learning how to develop strategies to deal with these behaviors effectively. If you cannot avoid dealing with a narcissist on a regular basis, you should practice self-care by preparing yourself to handle the different character strengths that they might misuse.
Separate the Behavior from the Person
A trademark characteristic of narcissists is the need to be validated. Effective communication will not happen if you label the other individual based on their actions. When you become aware of their narcissistic behaviors and you want to communicate your feelings, you need to make sure you separate these behaviors from the person. Use “I” statements to express your feelings instead of placing blame that might make them feel attacked or invalidated. For instance, instead of saying, “You’re selfish, and you only care about yourself” you could say, “I do not feel cared for when you do this.” Doing this provides the space for the other person to listen and change, and it will help them pinpoint an area where they need to improve.
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Leahy, R. (2014). Impediments and strategies in negotiating: A cognitive therapy model. Handbook of International Negotiating.
Wurst, S. N., Gerlach, T. M., Dufner, M., et al. (2017). Narcissism and romantic relationships: The differential impact of narcissistic admiration and rivalry. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(2), 280-306.