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.
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.