Adolf Hitler

Narcissistic Manipulation of Teams

How do narcissists manipulate teams?

It is well established that the way people think can be manipulated. Adolf Hitler, for example, was able to influence the thinking of a large part of the population of an advanced society.

Contemporary methods used to change peoples thinking for the better include Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). NLP is based on the idea that mind, body and language interact to create an individual's perception of the world and that perceptions, and hence behaviors, can be changed. NLP uses methods and models to bring about positive change in individuals. CBT seeks to identify and change "distorted" or "unrealistic" ways of thinking by talking through situations and influencing thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and actions (in that order); and therefore to influence behavior for the better.

But if thinking and perception can be changed for the better, the reverse can also apply.

Narcissists' use the power of words to emotionally color their team members' perceptions of themselves for the better, and their enemies for the worse.

Narcissists' distort the perceptions of the people around them. The Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert tells us that "memory is a reconstructive process that uses every piece of information at its disposal to build the mental images that come... to mind when we engage in the act of remembering."1 So if distorted information is continually fed into that 'reconstructive process' by a narcissist, the mental images will be reconstructed, and in time will reflect the narcissist's view.

The same behavioral traits can be described in different ways. For example, someone not conforming to the norms expected by those around him can be described generously as 'naughty', or unkindly as 'bad'. The following are examples of descriptions of behavioral traits of individuals described by narcissists' depending upon whether the individual is perceived as a friend or an enemy.

Friend or enemy?

Friend Enemy (Real or perceived)
He's cheeky. He's arrogant.
He's firm. He's pigheaded.
She is slim. She is scrawny.
She's well built. She's fat.
He's a perfectionist. He's a control freak.

In each of the above the literal meaning of the words for friend or enemy is the same, but the emotional meaning is attractive towards friends and offensive towards enemies.

A narcissist can distort the perceptions of the people around him over time using the above relatively subtle technique. However, if he believes that what he says will not get back to his 'enemy', perhaps in the company of a codependent 'friend', he will use less subtle techniques, often involving the use of expletives for greater effect. For example, instead of saying "He's arrogant", he may use stronger and more emotionally colorful language to have more impact on his team member's perception of the individual by saying, "He's a lazy arrogant [expletive]."

The individual may not be lazy or arrogant, but merely the object of the narcissist's envy. Narcissists' tend to subscribe to the view of Gustave Flaubert who said, "There is no truth. There is only perception."

To understand more about how narcissists' use the power of words to emotionally color their team members' perceptions of themselves for the better, and their enemies for the worse, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1 Gilbert, D. (2006), Stumbling on Happiness, Harper Collins, London, p. 206.