The Art of Dealing with Narcissism

Image of President Donald Trump walking on a red carpet into the East Room

Promptly after being officially named President of the United States, Donald Trump summoned leaders of the Big Three automakers to a White House meeting. This wasn’t a huge surprise to the managers of General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. After all, while campaigning for the Oval Office, Trump repeatedly promised to force U.S. manufacturers to stop expanding globally at the expense of American operations, and his infamous Twitter feed made it clear that the auto sector sat at the top of his corporate hit list.

After watching pre-inauguration tweets repeatedly scold his company for investing in Mexican operations, Ford CEO Mark Fields wisely set out to better prepare himself to deal with Washington’s new anti-offshoring agenda over the holidays, when he reread The Art of the Deal, an official Trump autobiography originally published in 1987.

Unfortunately, as the Detroit Metro Times recently pointed out, the book in question probably won’t directly help anyone better negotiate with Trump because it doesn’t really “dive into the psyche” of Trump. As DMT writer Lee DeVito put it, “Fields should know that The Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz has since disowned the book, calling it a ‘nonfiction work of fiction.’” And since Trump didn’t write it, any insights into his personality supposedly gained by reading The Art of the Deal could very well do more harm than good.

But Fields didn’t totally waste his time rereading the book because Trump reportedly likes to pretend the best-selling book isn’t a work of so-called “alternative non-fiction.” And anyone who treats it as the real deal stokes his ego, which doesn’t hurt if you must negotiate with America’s new leader.

Business is all about deal-making. But as noted in the IBJ Insight entitled “Beware the A-Hole Tax,” nobody likes to negotiate with a jerk, which is why anyone who takes the Ivey Strategic Business Negotiations Program that I teach leaves knowing a reputation for being a jerk can be seriously costly. That said, not everyone can see or understand how they are perceived by others. And because we often are forced to deal with egotistical people whether we like it or not, it pays to understand how to negotiate with a narcissist.

An ideal negotiation partner cares about your long-term interests. They want to listen to you and work with you to gain a positive outcome and maintain a mutually satisfying relationship. None of this tends to be true when dealing with narcissists. So, when dealing with one, it is extremely important to be very clear about what you need. This isn’t easy because narcissists typically don’t want to listen. They like to hear themselves talk, which is why you must really listen when they do (rather than planning what to say next in your head). This is your best opportunity to find out what a narcissist really wants, which may not actually be what you think or even what they are telling you they want.

Once you understand what the narcissist really needs, you can clearly explain how you can help provide it. Paying keen attention to what a narcissist says will also help you get them to come up with ideas that suit you. Narcissists like an idea best when they think they developed it themselves, so use probing questions to get them to reach conclusions that you favour. If possible, you should ensure that the negotiation process and outcome will make them look good.

While narcissists don’t typically care about what you want, they do care about what other people think. So, it pays to smile a lot as you appeal to their need to be seen as beautiful, influential, powerful, or intelligent, while framing your offer or proposal in a way that enhances how others see them or how they see themselves. Keep in mind that when forced to negotiate with a narcissist, there is nothing wrong with strategically sucking up to get their attention.

Like everyone else, they tend to want to help people they like, so do what you can to feed them the constant positive reinforcement they need. The more positive feedback, acknowledgement, and/or praise you can offer while negotiating, the more potential you will have to be liked. The more you can do this honestly, of course, the better off you will be (you will at least feel better about yourself if you don’t have to totally make stuff up).

Simply put, narcissists love to win. As a result, you’ll do better dealing with them if they leave the table believing that they won. Hopefully, you also will have won, but keep that to yourself. Letting a narcissist know you are happy with an outcome does not help. It is far more productive to get them to quickly act on commitments just made without noting that your interests are at stake. Narcissists often have short attention spans. And if you don’t get the deal done fast, they might just move on to winning the next thing they want without a thought to the deal just made.

About the Author

Ann Frost is Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario. Contact:

2 responses on “The Art of Dealing with Narcissism

  1. Ross Archibald

    Hi Ann,
    I really enjoyed and developed some good insights fromreading your article on dealing with narcissism.
    I have been following Trump’s ideas, goals and promises and the scary reality that he is the US president. I have wondered how the world is going to deal with him.
    Many thanks for drawing on your skills and enlightening me on how to approach such an individual. I really must catch upon your research.
    As Aye,

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