The Entitled and The NarcissistPosted: August 3, 2011
I think we are all entitled to some basics in our working environment; to be rewarded fairly for our contributions, to work safely, to be allowed to act ethically, amongst others. There are some people who, however, hold an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They might feel they have a right to be given things which others believe should be obtained through effort. They expect favorable treatment. They can expect others to automatically comply with their wishes. Working with or managing the entitled can be demanding for colleagues and managers alike.
Where the sense of entitlement is greater we are talking about narcissism. Narcissist behaviors can be particularly difficult to deal with. From my own experience and from researching on this article I have heard many stories of the destructive impact that narcissists can have on colleagues, managers, teams and even entire businesses.
How do you recognize and deal with somebody who lives with a sense of entitlement or has a narcissistic personality disorder?
Here are some of the behaviors that are typical of exaggerated entitlement.
To be clear, most people reasonably exhibit some of these behaviors some of the time. To be considered Entitled behavior I think there needs to be many of these behaviors consistently over time and at a level that is not normal.
Feel entitled to the best resources; that is, they feel entitled to better resources than everybody else. The entitled expect or demand the fastest computer, the newest computer, the latest gadget, their preferred desk, the biggest screen — more is not enough. Failure to comply results in pressure on the manager, the manager’s manager, the CEO, CFO or anybody they feel will buy into their sense of entitlement.
Feel entitled to choose what they work on, when they work on it and how to do it. With an inbuilt sense of superiority there is a tendency to ignore reasonable suggestions from others, there is a need to project superiority through their work, and there is a tendency to disregard authority that does not suit the narrative of their place. Perceived mundane tasks are ignored (bug fixing, documentation, testing etc) unless their hero reputation is at stake.
Feel their time is more valuable than others’. Meetings are often claimed to be a waste of their valuable time. They expect meetings to be held when it suits them (if at all). Their dismissal of others’ views can make meetings ineffective anyway.
Feel entitled to ignore the norms or their team, after all, they think they know better. Procedures are ignored; communication can be erratic; important information might not be shared; quality of work can be erratic.
Expect praise and admiration irrespective of their overall performance. The entitled will usually have some major success to point out but will ignore negative feedback or their own poor performance. They may effectively take credit for others’ work by overstating their personal contribution, or worse, put down others whose contributions might grab the spotlight. Their reaction to negative feedback can be unpredictable and even angry or nasty. The messenger may be targeted for retribution.
Avid self-promotors and charming when selling themselves. A feeling of self-entitlement is reinforced as more people buy into their inflated self-view. The bizarre, but complex result is that many people will perceive the self-entitled as a hero programmer — the “chosen one” — despite those working closer with them having a more nuanced or outright negative experience. The longer somebody works with the entitled programmer the lower their opinion trends. Politically, it can be difficult to raise concerns about the self-entitled for fear of challenging the perceived wisdom or raising the ire of the chosen one.
Defensive or even ruthless when their entitled status or reputation is threatened. When the entitled person feels that their position on the pedestal is threatened they have great incentive to respond; they have further to fall, they have far more personally at stake. Simple healthy disagreement by a colleague can trigger outbursts or political maneuvering. Colleagues may feel bullied and disrespected. In the more extreme cases, distortion of facts, denial and re-writing of history are common reports.
Star Programmer vs. Entitled Programmer
I think it’s very important to distinguish between Star behavior and Entitled behavior. A star deserves the accolades and recognition they receive. The best stars help people around them succeed where possible. A star is pragmatic about resources; they request the resources they need to get the job done. A star does not see the need for others to be put down for them to stand tall.
Likewise, the reality in most software teams is that there is a spectrum of capability and that there must be one or more people that step forward into leadership. That is not in itself entitlement.
Continuum of Behaviors up to Narcissism
Most times we experience somebody with a sense of entitlement it is problematic but manageable and does not warrant the label of narcissism.
Destructive narcissism is, fortunately, uncommon but the impact and consequences escalate quickly. This chart by Lubit distinguishes positive and destructive behaviors.
|Characteristic||Healthy Narcissism||Destructive Narcissism|
|Self-confidence||High outward self-confidence in line with reality||An unrealistic sense of superiority (“Grandiose”)|
|Desire for power, wealth and admiration||May enjoy power||Pursues power at all costs, lacks normal inhibitions in its pursuit|
|Relationships||Real concern for others and their ideas; does not exploit or devalue others||Concerns limited to expressing socially appropriate response when convenient; devalues and exploits others without remorse|
|Ability to follow a consistent path||Has values; follows through on plans||Lacks values; easily bored; often changes course|
Dealing with Narcissism
The more extreme incidents of entitlement are potentially narcissistic conditions that should be handled by a suitable professional. It is neither within the competence or responsibility of an employer or software team to deal with such conditions. Frankly companies, managers or employers shouldn’t be making such psychological judgements in the first place. (And nor should I!)
Alas, the more extreme the behavior, the more difficult it is to manage or cope with. Our normal, reasonable approaches to dealing with a problematic employee fail with narcissism. Providing even constructive criticism invites retribution. Behavior change can be difficult to achieve because the entitled, especially the narcissist doesn’t want to change.
A search of Psychology Today for articles about narcissism indicates it is a hot topic. “Don’t Diss the Narcissists” provides some practical suggestions (see the articles for more complete explanations). Many of the suggestions are counter-intuitive or, at least, the opposite of what we feel inclined to do.
- Find their strengths and regularly compliment them.
- Prepare to set limits.
- Resist the urge to “put them down.”
- Don’t withhold your empathy, attention and respect.
- Keep a comfortable distance.
- Don’t feel like you have to listen too long.
- Use indirect reasons for changing behavior.
- Explain the possible negative consequences of certain behavior.
Unfortunately, for some people I know who have worked with more extreme narcissistic behavior the consequences have been dire. It can be difficult for a manager to fire somebody who has fostered a hero relationship beyond their immediate team.
In addition to the list above I recommend that managers and colleagues maintain a diary to retain details of incidents. Keep the notes factual; includes places, names, dates and times; write on paper and keep it away from the office.
If you are dealing with a narcissist then expect facts and history to be twisted. The narcissist will remember the past as they wanted it to occur, not as it actually happened. Your written records will be helpful if the situation deteriorates by keeping your own recollections clear and provide some protection against inaccurate information.
The article above suggests keeping a comfortable distance. A comfortable distance might mean moving to a different team, to a different office or even to a new job.
Finally, I want to restate that I don’t think the term narcissist is to be used lightly and preferably not by desktop psychologists. I have chosen to write about this because of direct and indirect personal experience of the pain of dealing with narcissism. So, I have sought to write the article I wish I had read when I needed it. If you think this article is relevant to your current circumstances then seek proper advice as I am only a techie with personal experience NOT relevant professional qualifications.
All the best,
Andrew H – Psygrammer
Here is an online Narcissistic Personality Inventory test: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-03-16-pinsky-quiz_N.htm