If you negotiate at a professional level over a long period of time, you will doubtless encounter dozens of difficult personalities. Among the most difficult negotiators to work with are those suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). We ourselves may have exhibited some of these criteria at some point in our lives in our negotiation, persuasive, or influential efforts. In fact, NPD may be associated with many doctors, lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, and effective business persons. Some traits of NPD as identified by DSM-5 criteria follow:
- An exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior, even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Preoccupation with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect mate
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing that others envy you
- Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner. (See, DSM-V 301.81 (F60.81)
NPD can take many forms at the negotiation table – think something along the lines of, “I know you want my job and my position, but you have no leverage here and we think the price offered is what you need to expect, given your position.” "I am the most qualified politician on this debate stage." "Stop complaining, look at the big picture that I see."
Attempting to get an NPD sufferer to empathize with you is unlikely or impossible. Three approaches may work: 1.First, you must determine which type of NPD you’re dealing with, as it can take many forms. Sufferers of NPD may be vulnerable (bad self-image) or grandiose (overblown self-image). If you know, or guess, the person has the former type, they need reassurance, but not too much. The grandiose need to be included on your “team” and on board with your goal. They cannot be allowed to drive the deal, but they do need recognition and even attribution. Phrase your idea in terms of their idea and adoption of your perspective increases. 2.Second, acknowledge your annoyance. 3.Third, appreciate where the behavior comes from. Vulnerable narcissists are sneaky and undercutting and question your authority just to create mischief because of their own lack of self-esteem. 4.Fourth, evaluate the context. Know that situation may cue insecurities. Change the situation. 5.Fifth, aggressively maintain a positive outlook by steamrolling negative with positive. The light always wins eventually in a civilized society. 6.Sixth, don’t let yourself get derailed into being empathetic, because it simply does not work. You are more likely to teach a German Shephard to speak Mandarin than to get a positive response to empathy from someone with NPD. 7.Seventh, keep your sense of humor and call a narcissist’s bluff in a lighthearted way, avoiding cruelty. 8.Eighth, recognize that the person may need help. While these negotiations are frustrating, never forget that NPD suffers are human and therefore, imperfect. Try not to become too frustrated, and remember that it is you, and not they, who are able to control the negotiation trajectory. It may be easiest to avoid the interaction with these individuals entirely but this may not be possible with key persons in your transaction or dispute. Intermediaries may be needed: psychological and psychiatric counselors, lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, and judges.