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The One Word a Narcissist Doesn’t Want to Hear

Never say “no” to a narcissist unless you’re prepared for the consequences.

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Narcissism is marked by a distinct belief in one’s own exceptionalism. People high in this quality are convinced that they are better than everyone else and deserving of attention and recognition. They certainly don’t want to be criticized or called out for any misbehavior. Perhaps you have a relative who likes to show off at family gatherings as being the best cook in the clan. She produces what she believes to be perfectly prepared potatoes, making sure everyone applauds her contribution as she flamboyantly sets them on the table. Unfortunately, no one thinks they’re actually all that good. When the potatoes inevitably go uneaten time after time, she seems oblivious until someone finally gets up the nerve to point this out. The result, in retrospect, was predictable: “What’s wrong with you people? You wouldn’t know good cooking if it stared you in the face!”

As hard as it is for people high in narcissism to accept criticism, it’s even more difficult for them to take “no” for an answer. You might have a very demanding and self-centered boss who, like the Queen of Hearts in Alice and Wonderland, wants everyone in her vicinity to do what she tells them to do. You wouldn’t dare criticize her or even offer constructive comments about how she might try moving the chairs around her desk so that it would be easier to have meetings in her office. The last time you tried this, you stopped yourself before the eruption reached its full proportion. What if, along related lines, you indicated your disagreement with her managerial style? The last time someone tried this, she told them never, ever, to talk to her that way again.

There are many words people high in narcissism don’t want to hear, but perhaps the worst involve a “no,” as in “No, you can’t,” “No, you’re wrong,” or – even worse – “No I won’t.” This makes it difficult to go about your ordinary business with the people in your life, who understand the give-and-take of normal social interactions. According to a 2014 study by Hacettepe University (Turkey)’s Şefika Şule Erçetin and colleagues, this type of “Managerial Narcissism” can create chaos. The highly narcissistic come up with “new and dramatic goals” whose inability to succeed can only be attributed to “outside conditions or enemies who attempt to hinder them” (p. 98). If you try to stop this managerial narcissist, by extension, you become “the enemy.”

From this description, you might think that you could readily identify the managerial narcissist in your life. Test these ideas against sample items from the scale developed by the Turkish authors. Each item appears after the dimension it represents on the scale:

  1. Leadership and authority: I am a good leader.
  2. Anticipation of recognition: I know that I am a good manager because everyone says so.
  3. Grandiosity: I very much want to be powerful.
  4. Self-admiration and vanity: If I ran the world, it would be a much better place.
  5. Exhibitionism: Everyone likes hearing my stories.



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