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Avoiding a Narcissistic Partner

I say this often, and it’s unfortunately true: About a third of this firm’s revenue comes from bad partnership breakups and disputes. The problem for most people, is they are all too quick to jump into a partnership with someone, even a stranger, without understanding the long-term impacts of such a relationship. Like a marriage, you’re tying yourself to others in ways that may be very difficult (or expensive) to change or terminate later, and you therefore need to be very careful who you enter into a business relationship with as entering into a relationship with a narcissistic partner can be bad news.

Whether you are already in a partnership, or thinking about one, you owe it to yourself to figure out whether you’re dealing with a partner who is suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you suspect your future partner may suffer from such a disorder, you may want to avoid entering into a business relationship with him or her.

A narcissistic partner can become very problematic for the business, due to the personality traits exhibited by the disorder. They may manipulate you, abuse you, violate rules, boundaries and trust, all in the name of feeding their inflated egos (Read 10 Signs That You’re in a Relationship with a Narcissist) and fueling their sense of entitlement and victimization.

Because of these traits of a narcissistic partner, it’s very difficult to negotiate with them in good-faith. It can be extremely costly to sever ties and/or break the partnership while leaving the business intact. Almost always, such narcissistic partners will not compromise using economic considerations. Instead, they are focused on punishment, retribution or maintaining their abusive relationship with their partners, no matter what the economic cost. From a lawyer’s perspective, it’s very difficult to reach a compromise or legal settlement in a cost-effect manner. Mark Banschick, M.D., writes in Psychology Today that, “A narcissistic person will often want revenge, and won’t let go” (Read Narcissism Examined).

What narcissists (and sociopaths) excel at, is using language in specific ways, with a specific intent to take another’s mind and will captive. Read Narcissistic Abuse and the Symptoms of Narcissist Victim Syndrome, by Athena Staik, Ph.D. at PsychCentral. Narcissists want you to:

  • Devalue your contributions
  • Ignore or make excuses for their actions
  • Doubt your ability to make decisions
  • Idealize them and obsess about how to make them happy
  • Give in to whatever they want
  • Mistrust your support network (i.e. family or other partners), in favor of themselves

And so on. Psychologist Stephen Johnson writes that the narcissist is someone who has, “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” A narcissistic partner is unaware of (or unconcerned with) how his or her actions affect others, and this lack of empathy is thus the quintessential hallmark of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (See Narcissism And Empathy).

How To Spot a Narcissistic Partner

Read 18 Ways To Spot A Narcissist by the Huffington Post and 10 Signs That You’re in a Relationship with a Narcissist by Psychology Today. In general:

  • They are generally likable (at first)
  • They tend to be nicer to strangers than those closest to them
  • They like to talk about themselves and name-drop
  • They will inflate themselves at the expense of others
  • Their stories are about success, or touch on entitlement and victimization
  • Their words don’t match their actions
  • Appearance is everything, and they react strongly to criticism
  • They never say “sorry,” unless they are being sarcastic
  • Problems are because of someone else — they will take credit, but cast blame
  • They are quick to anger, if exposed to “facts” that don’t fit their worldview or personal narrative

Avoid Becoming Emotionally Attached

If you are considering doing business with someone you may suspect is a narcissist, simply don’t do it. Don’t fall victim to their influence, and don’t agree to do business with someone because:

  • You think that’s what they want
  • You want to please them
  • You think things will get better or be better this time, or
  • You think they will treat you differently from everyone else

If you are absolutely hell-bent on entering into a business relationship with someone you suspect could be a narcissist, then the absolute best thing you can do under the circumstances (aside from not doing business with them) is to make sure you have a strong partnership agreement in place. Don’t compromise on that one area, and please make sure it addresses edge-cases around when the relationship breaks down, such as how to unwind the relationship, how to terminate or leave if you want to, what to do if they violate your trust or the loyalty of the company, and what to do if they lose interest in the company and stop working for it.

Some Disclaimers

It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of a medical condition, especially in the employer / employee context. Unless you are a properly licensed psychologist, it’s impossible for you to properly diagnose any medical or mental condition. As an attorney, I cannot say whether the problematic individuals I’ve come across that exhibited what I perceived as narcissistic behaviors were due to Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s possible that what I may think as narcissistic traits are actually the result of something else entirely.

The point of this blog article is not to provide an opinion on how to diagnose a mental condition, nor to provide guidance in an employer / employee relationship. Rather, this article should be taken with a grain-of-salt. Don’t attempt to determine whether a potential partner (not employee) suffers a particular mental condition. Instead, ask yourself whether the partner exhibits the personality that you can work with, and whether you can operate a successful business together.

Finally, if you are having clashes with an employee due to personality traits, I strongly encourage you to seek the advice of a competent HR attorney in your local jurisdiction.

Law 4 Small Business, P.C. (L4SB). A little law now can save a lot later. A Slingshot Company.

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3 comments

  • I don’t know if you are still commenting or reading these responses. What happens when your business partner is a narcissistic lawyer who you trusted over the years. My father, a doctor, has a business partner who is related by marriage and has acted as my fathers attorney formally and informally over the years. For the past 30 years they have owned a health care business together, which my father founded. The narcissistic lawyer partner (who we will call NL) had the other partners (all doctors) sign agreements without advising them to have representation or have ANOTHER lawyer look at their agreements. He made them believe that he had their best interest in mind and manipulated them into trusting him and giving him “managing member” status, not really understanding the actual power that he gave himself in their business agreements. There has got to be some kind of conflict of interest or unethical nature to a lawyer doing this to non-lawyer partners. Disbarment? Public lawsuit? We are in arbitration right now because he refused to perform an audit, which was clearly in breach of contract. Overall lawyers in general seem to be very cautious on advising when other lawyers do something clearly unethical. We don’t feel like “the law in on our side” as you stated in another one of your articles. It appears that the law protects liars and the rest of us are forced to disprove their lies. Any incite on how to approach NL would be helpful.

    • Hi, there.

      Lawyers definitely tread carefully when accusing other lawyers of violating the professional rules of conduct — unless you’re hiring an attorney to actually look at that issue.

      Taking everything you’ve said as true, what you’re stating is complicated. If it can be shown the other parties all assumed NL was representing them, then NL definitely has a malpractice and ethical problem. That’s something that could be actionable (i.e. assuming damages) as malpractice, and worthy of a disciplinary complaint.

      I would recommend you consult with a legal malpractice attorney to see if there is indeed a cause of action here, and I would also have everyone submit a disciplinary complaint with the relevant state bar. Let the disciplinary committee weigh-in on whether there was a breach of ethics / professional rules of conduct.

      However, just because NL is an attorney, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s actually committed malpractice and/or violated the professional rules of conduct. Yes, lawyers are held to a higher standard. And yes, lawyers have a duty to make sure third-parties understand whether they are being represented or not by the lawyer. I think that will be an important factor — whether there was a reasonable belief by the others that NL was actually representing them.

      Good luck to you. Sounds like a very difficult situation.

      Larry.

  • Corpely.com /

    The objective of narcissistic abuse is power. These abusers act with the intent to diminish or even hurt other people. The most important thing to remember about intentional abuse is that it’s designed to dominate you. Abusers’ goals are to increase their control and authority, while creating doubt, shame, and dependency in their victims. They want to feel superior to avoid hidden feelings of inferiority. Understanding this can empower you. Like all bullies, despite their defenses of rage, arrogance, and self-inflation, they suffer from shame. Appearing weak and humiliated is their biggest fear. Knowing this, it’s essential not to take personally the words and actions of an abuser. This enables you to confront narcissistic abuse.

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