Narcissists are everywhere in today’s world, and narcissistic traits are also on the rise in general, so you will very likely encounter at least awkward people and even full blown narcissists in the business and legal worlds, when doing deals/discussions/negotiations. How do you deal with them in this context? How do you approach negotiations with them versus normal people?
When dealing with narcissists in business deals, it’s important to realize how fragile and broken the narcissistic personality is, and how this often means you’re wasting your time even engaging with them.
In general, you can expect a narcissist to be very awkward and difficult when trying to negotiate or do deals with them once there is even only minor conflict or disagreement, or the requirement to compromise. Once a narcissist’s grandiose false self is punctured, it can be very difficult to reason with them, since they must always feel superior and win at all times.
It is for this reason that it’s perhaps fair to say narcissists often don’t reach the really top level of business, where cooperation, compromise and negotiation is almost always required. They can often be the annoying low to mid level manager, but they lack the truly strong sense of self, and the ability to process logic/facts/reason, that is needed to get to the really high levels.
Therefore, it’s critically important to be on guard to the power dynamics of any negotiation/deal/discussion taking place, and realize when it’s best to back out and not waste time dealing with a narcissist who is not in contact with reality nor able to process it, and is instead only concerned with being on top and winning.
Primary Red Flag – They Must Always Be Superior And On Top
In order to understand why narcissists act the way they do, it’s important to understand how broken and fragile the narcissistic personality is, when it’s reached the point of full blown NPD.
Despite their outward bluster and “confidence”, these people are deeply traumatized from their childhoods, to the point that when you’re dealing with them as an adult, you’re not even dealing with the real person anymore, but a false “shell self” that needs constant “narcissistic supply” to prop itself up. In other words, these people operate from a false self, that even though it is false, needs constant reinforcement or “fuel” to confirm or validate itself.
There are 9 traits to full blown narcissistic personality disorder, but the traits that are likely to become apparent when trying to do deals/discussions/negotiations with them are a grandiose sense of self-importance, superiority and entitlement.
And out of these traits, it’s the superiority that will most reveal itself, especially if they’re required to compromise and relate to people on the same level as two grown adults.
Narcissist’s can’t and don’t do equal. You cannot converse with them as two grown adults should and would. They have to be dominant, on top, superior to the other person, at all times.
This might not be apparent right away, but will be obvious once the narcissist’s defenses are pushed into, and they’re required to engage and compromise like they’re “just the same” as everyone else, and nothing special. They can’t stand this.
Here are some things you may notice, perhaps not right away, but as soon as there is any conflict or disagreement, however slight, or you try to engage in any dynamic that treats you both as equals, where they’re not on top:
- They downplay or belittle your business record/accomplishments and amplify theirs.
- In general, you may find their style to be demeaning, insulting, belittling and arrogant, especially once they’re triggered by something.
- Signs of inappropriate behavior and boundaries in context of situations. They may try engaging in public with things that should be discussed in private, or blurting out things indiscreetly and violate general boundaries regarding privacy and confidentiality. There will just be a general tone-deafness and unprofessionalism that might leak out at times.
- There will often be an extreme sensitivity to any perceived criticism or reasonable but negative feedback.
- A constant sense of “one-upmanship” and them constantly scoring on points, trying to outdo and feel superior to you.
- There will often be a sense of entitlement that comes through – feeling they deserve special treatment/concessions in any deal being made that others wouldn’t get.
- They can just arrogantly bat away any perfectly reasonable suggestions.
- If you make a reasonable request of them, even if it would ultimately benefit them, they’ll deny or dismiss or ignore it. They can’t be told or asked to do something, they have to be on top, giving the orders/requests, not taking them, however politely and reasonably stated.
- They don’t accept perfectly reasonable “middle way” compromises you suggest. They have to be dominant and “win”, score points and be on top at all times.
- Any deals you might put forward, that you’ve spent a lot of time, effort and sincerity drafting, and where you made every effort to make it fair to all parties, is just batted away with disdain by the narcissist.
- With the most extreme narcissists, you’ll realize that there is no way to negotiate with them, since they cannot process facts/logic/reason, and it’s just all about winning to them, not about reaching a fair settlement/deal. You’re wasting your time and energy in these cases – back out.
- Paranoia and suspicion are also not uncommon with narcissists, perhaps not right away, but once their false self has been punctured. Every approach, even sincere and genuine ones, will be treated with suspicion. Not good for reaching agreements and compromise, or building trust.
Depending on what your tolerance level is for other people’s nonsense, it may be advisable to set some internal boundaries with yourself primarily, and have a cut off point where is you’re seeing a certain number of these red flags (perhaps 3 or 4), you simply cut your losses and withdraw from any negotiations/discussions. Alternatively, if you’re seeing ANY kind of confrontational, obnoxious or oppositional-defiant patterns, you can use Martin Armstrong’s simple criteria for dealing with people – “amicable or forget it” – and back out right away.
Also, all of these reactions from the narcissist will also be inflamed and enhanced if you (often unwittingly) cause them “narcissistic injury” by bruising their ego, try to assert yourself in a way that portrays you as equals, try making simple requests, or just state simple, clear facts if it may not reflect well on their behavior or business.
Also, once you’ve upset them even by setting your own reasonable boundaries, you’ll find it is IMPOSSIBLE to return to any kind of cordiality or cooperation. All statements/interactions/messages are re-framed so they’re confrontational, belittling to you or otherwise toxic, even if you’re trying to find common ground.
They may appear to co-operate to an extent at first, but once their narcissistic defenses are triggered (which usually never takes too long), it becomes all about them staying superior and dominant, and then facts/logic/reasonableness cease to matter. It then becomes about power, dominance and context over content.
You’ll even see them even refusing or dismissing things that would benefit THEM! That’s when you see how strange this personality disorder is, and also how exacerbating it is to deal someone for whom power dynamics are always more important than reasonable compromise (in business, know when to save your time and energy and withdraw when dealing with these people).
Once a narcissist’s ego is bruised, they don’t let it go and are often unpleasant to deal with for some time after. They can have childish fits of narcissistic rage that last for days or even weeks. They’ll be out to get you for sure, if you burst their bubble.
Perhaps this quote from Richard Grannon will capture some of the frustration normal people will feel when trying to negotiate or do business deals/discussions with a narcissist:
“In order to survive, the (narcissistic) child builds a shell around themselves. The shell keeps reality out. Reality, data and facts and truth are the enemy. SOME data gets through the shell, but only that which validates the pre-existing (narcissistic) self image.
And other data that comes through that can be transformed on it’s way through the shell to validate the pre-existing false self image will be. And all the rest – ALL the rest – is ignored.
That’s why you’ve had the experience of dealing with a narcissist, and finding them to be very very stubborn, very stiff, and NOTHING gets through to them. They just cling stubbornly to that delusional version of themselves…..
….The formation of their personality is one giant NO. It’s a negation (of reality). They must fight like hell to keep reality at bay. And they’ve been doing this since they were very very young. They don’t know any other way of existing.”
It’s not our job, especially in the business world, to fix other people’s deep seated personality disorders that go back to infancy. Again, it’s best to spot early on when someone is not going to compromise or be reasonable, and back away to work on more productive things.
What Narcissists Are Like In Divorce Negotiations
One key area of agreement/discussion/negotiation that we unfortunately might have to deal with a narcissist is when divorcing them. Given everything we’ve already covered above, it’s no surprise that doing this can be very difficult and stressful.
Divorce attorney Jonathan C Noble puts it best – “you don’t want to marry (a narcissist), because at times, it can be exceedingly difficult to unmarry them”. (his YouTube channel is an excellent place to start if you’re going through this yourself)
Put differently, there usually isn’t much real negotiation when dealing with a narcissist in divorce proceedings, because once things are confrontational to that point, they’ve no interest whatsoever in negotiating! As with business negotiations, they just need to win and be on top at all times.
“One characteristic of covert narcissists (and narcissists in general) is they hate to lose. No matter what, they have to feel superior……
They will fight over an avocado peeler or an old urinated on rug, that their pet chihuahua peed on. And then their lawyer will write me a letter, and then I would have to write a letter back, it’s hundreds of dollars if not more, it’s a mess.
They’ll never agree to mediate anything. They’ll never arbitrate. Everything’s got to go through litigation. You just want to get rid of them”
Jonathan C Noble – see here
And again, remember, even pleading to a narcissist’s logic and reason, trying to convince them that a certain settlement or stipulation would clearly benefit them, usually doesn’t work. They’ll even sabotage themselves in process of their obsession to “win” and always be on top. Noble admits himself that it’s horrible to witness this.
“Negotiation” doesn’t matter if one person wants to burn the earth
Therefore, when dealing with a narcissist in divorce, it’s always best if possible to work with your attorney to find a strategy that makes the narcissist think they have won, even if they haven’t. Pretend some clause/item/home/stipulation really matters to you, when in fact it doesn’t, and then let them win that particular “battle” to feel superior. Sometimes, you might have to give away more than you want just to get rid of them and preserve your own health and sanity.
Work on a strategy with a legal professional in your jurisdiction. But if you’re dealing with a narcissist, grind the context vs content split into your mindset, understand that it’s never about reasonableness or compromise with them, but only superiority and winning, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Protecting Yourself When Doing Deals/Negotiations With Narcissists
On the balance of probabilities, it’s probably best to say narcissists are not worth your time in any form of business, given how awkward they are, especially when doing deals/negotiations/discussions.
Here are some precautions to take when you think you may be dealing a narcissist in this area:
In discussion/negotiation – Keep a very keen eye out for the personality traits we mentioned above, like superiority, entitlement, belittling language, and so on. Watch especially for a prickly over-sensitivity to criticism, boundaries or assertiveness on your side, and a feeling they must be on top at all times. Also watch out for them batting away any attempts at cordiality once they’ve taken offense at something, and constanly re-framing everything negatively (a key sign of a triggered narcissist). If you observe these patterns, know when to save your energy and walk away, especially if you’ve got other options with more reasonable people.
Contracts/deals – With a narcissist, if you do manage to massage their ego sufficiently, and decide to tolerate them just to get an important deal done, be 100% rigorous in due process, due diligence, contracts – everything. Do everything 100% by the book, and have every stage of the deal documented and recorded. Do not give the narcissist anything to come back to you on. Never do informal deals or “handshake” agreements with them. Remember, with these people, nothing is ever their fault, so if you sell them a business for example that they run into the ground, it’ll never be their fault, and they’ll instead be coming after you, trying to pull you up on some technicality and argue the sale/deal wasn’t valid. Never leave yourself open to legal battles with a narcissist, because they’ll burn the earth just to win, as we covered in the divorce section above.
Rejections – If the narcissist is actually the one who makes the ultimate decision on whether a deal/transaction goes through, and they refuse or reject, expect more obnoxious behavior. Narcissists love to reject people, but in a dismissive, belittling and disrespectful way. They’ll never just send a short, polite, simple email/message/letter saying “After consideration, I’m not interested, thanks and best wishes”, or similar. No, with a narcissist, they’ll often feel the need to spill their guts with paragraphs of feedback you didn’t ask for, explaining their decision, and usually belittling your talents/business/assets in the process. Don’t even bother reading this drivel; as soon as it’s obvious from their message that they’re not interested don’t even read the rest of their boring, self-important waffle. Just close the email/letter, delete if applicable, block them if necessary, and move on.
How To Properly End Negotiations With A Narcissist
This is an extra section I wanted to put in, because I reflected on how clever some narcissists can be in drawing you back on once you’ve tired of their nonsense and threatened to end all engagement. They can be very charming and supplicating when they need to be – it’s important not to be fooled by this.
Here’s a common sequence of how this might play out:
- You enter negotiations with the other person, thinking they are just like everyone else and can be reasoned with.
- The narcissist starts showing their red flags (grandiosity, entitlement, dismissiveness, arrogance, inability to do “equal”, etc)
- You eventually tire of their nonsense and state strongly that you’re going to withdraw from negotiations (this is the CORRECT position and one you should stick to regardless of what the narcissist does next).
- The narcissist might sometimes try to draw you back in suddenly dropping the arrogance and acting all nice, supplicating, apologetic, fawning, even humble (do NOT fall for this act – stick to your initial gut feel and don’t engage any further).
- If you do decide to re-engage, it will not be long before the narcissist returns to the obnoxious behavior (they operate in an alternating bully-fawn pattern, so can pretend to be vulnerable and sincere). Or they’re doing this to remain in control of you and the engagement.
- Therefore the best option when you have seen enough red flags in negotiations/deals is to simply withdraw and never engage with that person again (block and ignore if needed from then on). Have a boundary line before you begin, and if this is crossed, that’s it, regardless of how the other person reacts.