Having a narcissistic coworker—or worse, a narcissistic boss can be one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences in the modern-day workplace.

I stumbled upon an interesting experiment out of Cornell University about narcissism and creativity:

Researchers cleverly had over two hundred students fill out a narcissism questionnaire to gauge each participants level of narcissism. This involved answering questions like, “How much do you enjoy being the center of attention?”

They then instructed participants to pair up and ‘pitch’ movie ideas to one another and then evaluate the concepts. Here is where it gets interesting: When the student evaluators knew how narcissistic their partner was, they gave them higher scores in creativity. However, when independent evaluators graded the pitches on paper, the narcissistic pitches were not seen as more creative.

This highlights a few interesting issues about narcissism:

  • When we meet a narcissist, we tend to think they are more creative (or deserving of their self-inflation)
  • Narcissists are not actually more creative, their charisma is what convinces people that their ideas are better.

This speaks to the importance of confidence, not narcissism in the workplace—especially in sales, marketing and pitching. How can we use this study in our lives?

1. Don’t be fooled by narcissists

Identify the egoists in your environment and be hyper aware of their ideas. Do not let their charisma and confidence in pitching trick you into thinking that they have an above average idea.

2. Get it in writing

If possible get ideas in writing to help review them objectively. Set-up a process of sending ideas through email before or after meetings to give coworkers space to evaluate ideas on paper.

3. Leverage your egoists!

If you have someone with great confidence and charisma—even if they are a little self-centered, use them when you need to pitch ideas, get sales or sell products. Make sure they speak to large groups and lead presentations; their confidence will be infectious.

4. Two narcissists might be better than one (but not three) 

Researchers actually followed up their first study with a very interesting experiment. They broke 292 participants into groups and had them come up with creative ways for a company to improve its performance. Amazingly, the groups with two narcissists actually came up with better ideas than a group with none or one. Why? When two egomaniacs are in a group their competitiveness ignites more creativity. However, when more than two egoists were in a group the ­competitiveness undermined the group’s efficiency.

In conclusion, a small dose of narcissism can give you confidence, but don’t let the overly confident trick you into thinking they are more creative, intelligent or interesting than you!

Citation:

Goncalo, J. A., Flynn, F. J., & Kim, S. H. (2010). From a mirage to an oasis: Narcissism, perceived creativity, and creative performance

About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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