Negotiating with narcissists — people who only care about their self-interests — is a skill all entrepreneurs need to master.
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We live in an increasingly narcissistic society. Narcissists are people who have an overwhelming need to be admired. They tend to lack empathy and other core components that emotionally healthy people possess. They are typically self-important, arrogant and demanding — and they especially don’t take kindly to criticism.
You’re likely to find lots of narcissists in positions of political and business power — which means you’ll probably have to negotiate with them as you build your business. Lucky you!
The good news: You can take certain steps that will help you bargain and make successful deals with these hard-to-handle personalities.
How to spot a narcissist
This is the easy part. In talking to them, their worldview often quickly become apparent. By and large, everything revolves around them. In their minds, they’re the ones — and often the only ones — who make great things happen. They strive to project an image of supreme self-confidence and likely see themselves as hyper-intelligent, attractive and incredibly capable. They believe themselves to be uniquely deserving of preferential treatment.
Commonly, narcissists push back against just about every perceived slight, no matter how insignificant. They attack anything that might call into question their lofty perceptions of themselves. Frequently, there’s an enemy making the narcissist a victim and justifying his or her vindictiveness and possibly ruthlessness. They tend to be adept at manipulating emotions such as guilt, fear, and anxiety. All the while, narcissists can appear amazingly charming and charismatic.
Related: How to Work With a Narcissist
For narcissists, people are like pieces on a chessboard. They move them around to serve their purposes and anyone but the King (the narcissist) can be readily sacrificed.
Accept who you are dealing with
Given all that, it won’t surprise you to hear that a great many entrepreneurs have trouble doing deals with narcissists. It’s sometimes impossible to get narcissists to bargain in good faith — and focusing on deal terms and rational, logical concerns often fails to move things forward. This, of course, can be incredibly frustrating.
Moreover, getting a viable outcome can be remarkably hard. For instance, getting narcissists to admit to any substantial weaknesses is nearly impossible.
So what you can do if you’ve got to sit across from a narcissist at the negotiation table? To be successful in dealing with narcissists, you first have to clearly understand their psychology. You must also accept that their psychology is who they are — they are never going to change. By accepting that this is the way things are, you put yourself in a stronger position mentally and psychologically to effectively negotiate with narcissists.
Related: 8 Traits of Healthy Narcissism That Drive Success
The art of negotiating with narcissists
I asked Frank Carone, executive partner at Abrams Fensterman and an international leading authority on negotiations, for his best advice. According to Carone, flattery will get you far:
“In all negotiations, you must stay focused on your goal. Sometimes that requires you to figure out what people really need and what they want. Whatever the other side’s critical needs are, you must appear to give it to them if you want to make a deal. When bargaining with narcissists, a critical need — an essential need — is your adulation. This proves to them that they are worthwhile, even great. Narcissists are usually, deep down, very insecure and frightened people. Therefore, you’re going to have to make them feel important and powerful. At the nascence of his power, Cosimo de’ Medici needed powerful allies. He invited the brutish military leader Francesco Sforza to Florence and proceeded to charm him, knowing full well Sforza’s deep-down desire to be liked. Cosimo charmed Sforza and at once earned the loyalty of a powerful and ferocious friend.”
The upshot: The more you convey to narcissists that you understand their “greatness,” the more willing you will likely find them to work with you to get a deal done. This doesn’t negate the importance of smartly addressing the terms of any deal, however — negotiating the specifics is always critical. But unless you constructively pay attention to narcissists throughout the process, they will probably not pay attention to the terms — nor will they make many, if any, concessions.
Related: Your Narcissism Is Killing Your Employees’ Productivity. How to Avoid the Pitfalls.
This approach can be very hard for some people. I work with highly successful and wealthy entrepreneurs in developing negotiation strategies for buying and selling companies. One of the complications for some, when it comes to their negotiations with narcissists, is they have to override their egos to order to get the narcissists to take action and move forward.
In one situation, for example, it took a lot of coaxing before a self-made billionaire client was willing to excessively praise the owner of a company he wanted to purchase. My client was exponentially wealthier, with an amazing track record of acquiring companies for a good price and them substantially growing them. Objectively, it was clear that the billionaire was a better business person than the owner of the company he sought to acquire. Still, by meeting this core need of the buyer — the need to be “gushed over” — a deal was made and everyone walked away happy. It was a win-win arrangement that probably never would have happened if the billionaire didn’t subjugate his ego.
Remember your ultimate goal
In the end, remember that it’s possible to effectively negotiate with almost anyone. All negotiations center on meeting the needs of each side. In the case of negotiating with narcissists, the paramount need is often that you recognize their view of themselves — and reinforce it repeatedly. If you ever negotiate with narcissists, make sure to give them the attention they crave if you want to win.