How to Manage Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.
*Principles of this blog are based off the National Business Institute’s course on “Dealing with Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Legal Practice: Clients, Counsel, and Others”.
Whether a client or a coworker, unhealthy narcissism can derail an otherwise straightforward experience together.
In 2020, there were 7 million American adults who have NPD or narcistic style. People who have this tend to see others as objects for their personal gratification, or as potential threats. Their world view tends to be win or lose. When those diagnosed with NPD, behavior traits include:
- Lack of empathy
- Grandiose sense of self-importance
- Excessively concerned about their image
- Dirven to seek attention and admiration
- Largely superficial relationships
- Feel entitled to manipulate or exploit others
- Rarely admit they are wrong
- Become enraged when they feel disrespected or humiliated
- Play the victim or martyr
How do you know or feel in the presence of narcissists? You can feel often belittled, under scrutiny or even judged, as if nothing you are doing is good enough, among many other feelings. Unfortunately, narcissists hide behind a façade of fear.
Working with Narcissists & Communicating with Clients with NPD –
The Narcissist’s Code – have you ever had a client or colleague that you sense may exhibit these traits? It’s helpful to know what may be motivating them, especially if it’s not obvious. One of the key points is that image is everything for them. Next is getting attention – it’s often when they feel listened to or admired – they feel expansive and fueled. If they are not at the center of attention, they can feel depressed, and often aggressive. Honesty is optional for them! Narcissist’s can be great liars as they seek image enhancement, being incredibly convincing in the moment. Next, they tend to believe others are either against them or out to get them. Narcissists tend to be driven by emotions and impulses. Winning is everything for them. Knowing these traits can allow you to be aware, and even create strategies to respond.
What could this look like with a potential client? Clients could think they know more or better than you as the veterinarian or technician, and will even demean or manipulate other members of your staff. They expect to be admired and rules are an exception to them.
Key Tip: A practical tip to respond include sharing that their treatment doesn’t feel respectful, which can ultimately interfere with helping them achieve their goals.
|Argue with them
||Authentically praise their strong points
|Try to get them to accept responsibility
||Educate them on possible consequences, then let them choose
|Take what they say personally
||Recognize that they are like this with everybody
|Argue for a win-win approach
||Focus the narcissist on his/her interests rather than what the opposing party receives
|Respond to dramatics or ultimatums
||Return to the narcissist’s goals and interests
|Take the bait when criticized
||Reassure them that you are on their side, and refocus on the case
|Overlook any failures to follow your policies
||Document, document, document. Make exceptions to your policies sparingly, if at all.
It can often be incredibly mentally and emotionally draining when dealing with someone who exhibits NPD. It’s important however, to hold onto your voice and set boundaries. It is not your responsibility to fix them. Dr. Dan Neuharth shares the “11 Things NOT to Do with Narcissists”:
- Don’t take them at face value
- Don’t over-share personal information
- Don’t feel a need to justify your thoughts, feelings or actions
- Don’t minimize their dysfunctional behavior
- Don’t expect them to take responsibility
- Don’t assume they share your values and worldview
- Don’t try to beat them at their own game
- Don’t take their actions personally
- Don’t expect empathy or fairness
- Don’t expect them to change
- Don’t underestimate the power of narcissism
Many of this can be easier said than done, but try to remember: in most cases, it’s not your responsibility to satisfy their cravings for admiration and praise. We can have compassion for the suffering of narcissists, but it does not mean excusing them for their narcissistic actions. Rather, focusing on the patient or case at hand, focusing on facts and trying a tip or two from the above table.
When deciding whether or
not to terminate an employee, and weighing the pros and cons, you need to
assess the costs and benefits of keeping this employee versus firing him or
her. Consider the following:
- the nature of the
behavior or performance issues involved
- the seriousness of these
- how this employee is
affecting other employees or clients
- how easily you can
replace this employee
- the costs of recruiting,
hiring, training and retaining a new employee
If this employee is
exposing your practice to significant legal or business risks, then the
decision to terminate the employee will be different from one where, perhaps
with coaching, the employee could potentially contribute to the company.
If the issues are increasing
the workload and responsibility of other employees, then it is important to
also consider the ripple effects that the behavior of one employee is having on
the entire practice.
This article will review the key considerations when
beginning the process of a lawful termination. Start with the question of why you
are considering terminating this employee. It is important that you can determine
the reason before moving forward with the rest of the process.
It may be tempting to
terminate someone’s employment because he or she doesn’t fit well into the
company culture, or isn’t especially likeable.
It’s easy to revert to the notion of at-will employment when that’s the
case. The principle of at-will employment means that an employee can be fired
at any time, for any reason, as long as there is not an illegal reason
involved. Some people may conclude that there shouldn’t be a problem with this termination.
An issue can develop if
you terminate an employee at will, and then that employee states that an
illegal reason was involved. In this case, the employer must prove that this
was not the situation. Unfortunately,
wrongful termination claims are not always easy to disprove. They can also harm
your practice’s reputation, breed mistrust among other employees, and lead to
Next, we will review the
- reasons for wrongful termination
- the actual conversation
- information about
Throughout this article,
we will also share strategies to protect your practice.
Reasons for Wrongful Termination Claims
One reason for wrongful
termination is employment discrimination. It can include discrimination based
on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. An employer also cannot
discriminate against an employee because of their disability, age or pregnancy.
These are all illegal reasons to fire someone. You also can’t terminate an
employee as a form of retaliation.
An employer has the
legal obligation to honor employment contracts, union or non-union, including
termination clauses. Not doing so is considered breach of contract. There can
also be an implied breach of
contract, when a company implies, either in writing or verbally, that
employment is protected.
This is not intended to
be a complete list of potential wrongful termination claims. Instead, it can be
used to show the flaws in simply firing someone, at will. There is a more
graceful way to go through the process, and when followed, it should prevent the employee from
being surprised that he or she is getting fired. Therefore, the employer is
better protected against claims of wrongful termination.
Poor Performance/Behavior Over Time
It’s important to create
and carefully follow a disciplinary policy for your practice. It may consist of
rules such as providing an employee who has demonstrated a substandard
performance with a verbal warning the first time, a written warning the second,
and probation or termination on the third. In order to have an effective
disciplinary policy, though, you’ll also need to have clear and consistent
policies about employee behavior and performance so that your employees clearly
know the practice’s expectations. The policies must be consistently enforced,
When a policy is broken,
you should follow your progressive disciplinary procedures in a timely way, and
in a way in which the severity of consequences increases if an employee doesn’t
correct the behavior. In your disciplinary meetings with that employee, you can
then share what policies were broken, why this is problematic, and the
Document every time that
you speak to a particular employee about the issue (such as lateness or
gossiping), doing so directly after the meeting and listing the following:
- date of the meeting
- specific behaviors
- policy broken
- consequence for this
- consequences if this
- employee’s responses
- date of follow-up meeting
with the employee
It is recommended that
you have another manager at disciplinary meetings. This allows one person from
the practice to conduct the conversation with the employee, and the other to
take notes and serve as a witness. Be sure to have the employee sign relevant disciplinary
documents. Following this procedure gives your employee a chance to improve,
while also protecting you, as an employer, from wrongful termination claims or
Keep in mind that each
time a disciplinary procedure occurs with an employee, the documents that you
create may ultimately end up in court. Be sure to professionally list all
pertinent details. Avoid judging or interpreting an employee’s behavior; for
example, do not comment that while George says he’s late because of traffic, the
real issue is that he’s lazy. Stick to the facts.
If your employee isn’t
breaking policies, but also isn’t meeting expectations, you can create a
performance improvement plan (PIP). This allows you to share goals and
checkpoints, while also offering concrete next steps and support. Be sure to
have the employee sign the PIP. Keep this documentation, whether disciplinary
or PIP, confidential and safely stored.
Although documenting behavior
or performance issues over time is best, sometimes it isn’t possible. For
example, if an employee steals money, becomes violent at work, or brings
illegal drugs to the workplace, then the rule that is broken is so severe that the
employee needs to be fired immediately. In that case, what’s important is that
you respond to any future situations of this severity at a comparable level of
Conversation about Termination
If the decision to fire
a particular employee has been made, then the next issue to consider is how to
have the conversation with him or her. If you’ve provided that employee with
verbal and written warnings according to your company’s disciplinary policy,
then you have increased your protection. Another option is to consult with your
practice attorney to make sure that the termination is solid. This will prepare
you in case the employee decides to pursue action against the practice.
Once you’re ready to hold
the meeting, be timely about making it happen. However, take into account if
that employee has something significant happening that day that could make your
It can help to have a
termination agenda to keep the meeting on track and provide topics to be covered.
The agenda should also include items to be returned to the employee and a
reminder to get a confirmation of the person’s current address so a final
paycheck can be mailed. Having an agenda can also help to guide all parties
involved through what’s likely to be an emotionally-charged and stressful meeting,
and help to ensure that you cover all necessary items.
Be sure that the
location of the meeting is somewhere private. Then, be direct and clear without
being harsh. Explain to the employee that after meeting with that employee to
discuss behaviors, including the issuance of verbal and written warnings, the
decision was made to separate employment that day. Be transparent and make sure
you state that the decision is not negotiable. If the employee tries to debate
the decision, don’t engage or try to justify yourself, and avoid saying
anything that could be construed as a threat.
Keep the meeting short, lasting
no longer than 10 to 15 minutes. The greater the length of the meeting, the
more potential that something could be said that could expose the practice to a
lawsuit. Close the meeting by thanking the employee for contributions made and extend
to him or her your best wishes for the future.
An important topic to discuss
is the specifics about the physical separation from the workplace. Should the
employee, for example, take his or her belongings now? Or do you plan to meet
him or her after hours to take out belongings when other employees aren’t at
work? In some cases, the employee may have missed too much work, which led to
the termination; in that case, you may want to focus on avoiding a humiliating
situation for the person. If the reason for termination is something such as
embezzlement, then your main focus would be to have the employee leave the
workplace as soon as possible. If the ex-employee has property of someone else’s
at work, or vice versa, arrangements must be made to transfer belongings.
Be prepared to answer
questions that might arise. You can’t predict what they will be, but a common question
is whether you will provide references for that person. Regardless of your
response, make sure to protect your company while also treating the terminated
employee with respect.
Prepare to provide any
relevant information about the employee such as benefits, unused vacation time,
or any severance agreement. Summarize all relevant information in a termination
letter. This dated letter should state that the employee has been terminated,
along with a brief description of why and any other pertinent details.
Afterwards, let other
employees know about the termination without discussing any confidential information
or making negative comments about the former employee. Be straightforward,
sharing information the other employees need to know, reassuring them that the company
isn’t eliminating roles. Acknowledge that, in the short term, other employees
may need to help to manage that person’s workload.
These are terminations where
employees are likely to sue the employer in connection with the termination. Some
situations in which this is more likely to happen include the following:
- employee is a member of
a legally protected class
- employee is a difficult
- employee has a relative
who is an attorney
- employee is surprised by
As far as the first
example, federal law prohibits discrimination on
the basis of age (over 40), race, color, religion, sex, national origin or
disability. In addition, individual states may have laws that are more
stringent. When terminating the employment of someone in a protected class, the
employer may be vulnerable to anti-discrimination claims for any statements
made prior to, during or even after the employee’s tenure. Examples of these
statements are as follows:
- I know it must be hard to balance your
job responsibilities with the new baby.
- Most 50-year-olds would have trouble
meeting the physical demands of this job.
Comments such as those are commonly part
of a casual conversation with no discriminatory intent, but could add credence
to a wrongful termination claim.
Other employees are difficult:
argumentative and/or obstinate. They may refuse to take responsibility for
their behavior or performance, becoming defensive and blaming others. Employers
may be reluctant to fire this type of employee, fearing confrontation or retaliation.
The practice can effectively be held hostage to this type of employee and, when
fired, the employee may respond with a lawsuit.
When employees have relatives who are
attorneys, it may make it easier for them to sue. The relative may even make the
suggestion, and if legal services are offered to the disgruntled employee at a
reduced fee, or even for free, there are fewer barriers to suing. Finally,
surprised employees may be so devastated that they legally challenge the
termination. These situations highlight the importance of carefully creating
and following policies as described.
The termination process is almost always uncomfortable, carrying with it a varying degree of legal risk for your practice. Your goal is to make the process as amicable as possible while continuing to minimize risk along the way. The recommendations in this article won’t cover every situation but should provide broad guidelines that you can tailor to your unique circumstances. It is recommended to consult with an employment attorney experienced in the laws for your state.
Read more on the WMPB website here!