Dealing With Problem People

Communicating with Narcissists

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Communicating with Narcissists.

Frustrating and non-productive: two words to describe trying to communicate with a self-centered person, the narcissist. Perhaps it's the optimist in us that wants to "fix" the narcissist, so that he or she will be receptive to ideas that do not affect him or her personally.

Unless, of course, you have an advanced degree in Psychology, you probably do not have the ability to fix his or her total self-absorption. If you absolutely cannot avoid contact with a narcissist, try a different approach, which I have outlined below.


Your narcissist is what he/she is: someone who is totally self-centered, and focused only on his or her own feelings, beliefs, and needs. You can't fix him or her. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you will stop wasting your breath- and energy- trying to change him or her.


Most people can be motivated externally, because they take into consideration the feelings and needs of others. External motivators might include altruism (the desire to show simple human kindness towards others), empathy (being able to understand how another person feels), and courtesy (considerate, socially-acceptable behavior towards others).

A narcissist is almost totally motivated from within: their beliefs, their feelings, and their needs rule their decisions. There are degrees of narcissism, of course, but a truly narcissistic person is ruled by the ego.


When you "reframe" something, you are presenting or viewing it in a different way. When dealing with a narcissist, you need to present your ideas, needs, or requests in such a way that appeals to their own self-centeredness.

The old saying "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar" is true for pretty much everyone, but especially crucial when dealing with a narcissist. A narcissist who feels slighted or threatened is capable of truly petty, selfish behavior.

Appealing to the narcissist's ego motivates totally; as distasteful as that may sound, it works. You may even find that outright, shameless flattery works very well. Tell the narcissist how wonderfully he or she does whatever it is you want him or her to do ("You're so much better at this than I am"), or how good he or she would probably do it ("You'd be a natural!"), and the narcissist is almost sure to react favorably.

EXAMPLE: Instead of saying, "We really need some help with this project", maybe try "You are so talented at A, B, and C- you did such an amazing job with the X project! Your input will make this a complete success!"


That stands for "What's In It For Me?" and forms the basis of your narcissist's world-view. It's all about THEM.

What does he or she stand to gain from the situation? Money? Recognition? Status? An award certificate or plaque? Flattery? Praise? These are all great motivators, because they reinforce the narcissist's self-image.

Let's expand on the previous example: "You are so talented at A, B, and C- you did such an mazing job with the X project! Your input will make this project a complete success! You may get some media attention, and this will look really impressive when you're up for your review!"

All these tactics may seem manipulative (maybe they are!),and may seem to encourage unpleasant behavior... but they get results. Let the psychologists do the therapy.

More about this author: Christine Conte

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