“Narcissist” is a term I frequently see these days. It may be overused and sometimes misunderstood, but in my experience working with people from different industries and backgrounds there is a distinct difference in how things go when dealing with a narcissist.
When I met top family lawyer and author Rebecca Zung, I was blown away by her insights on the subject and had to share her wisdom with you on my Now to Next podcast.
Rebecca Zung’s professional story started when she was a newly divorced single mother. A college dropout, she had to finish school and attend law school at night while working and raising her young kids.
Since then, she’s risen to the top of her field. She is a partner at Long, Murphy, and Zung. U.S. News and World Report named her one of the country’s top 1% of lawyers, and she’s in Trend Magazine as a Legal Elite. She has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, Extra, CBS Los Angeles, NPR, and Good Day New York.
Rebecca is the author of Negotiate Like YOU M.A.T.T.E.R.: The Sure Fire Method to Step Up and Win and Breaking Free: A Step-by-Step Divorce Guide to Achieving Emotional, Physical & Spiritual Freedom. She also has a top YouTube show, Negotiate Your Best Life, and podcast dedicated to helping people through one of the most traumatic times of their lives, divorce. However, one of her specialties is negotiating with narcissists.
Narcissism Is a Spectrum
People with medically diagnosed Narcissism Personality Disorder only make up about 0.5% of the population. The narcissism that Rebecca and I discuss is in a different place on the spectrum.
We all have some narcissistic traits. We all want to feel seen, heard, and know that we matter. That’s part of being a human being. However, a narcissist is someone who is self-involved to the point of lacking empathy. Signs of narcissism include:
- A sense of entitlement or believing they are superior and more deserving
- Manipulative and controlling behavior
- A need for status, validation, or admiration (narcissistic supply)
- Arrogance and rude behavior when they aren’t treated as they think they deserve
Researchers believe this narcissism results from childhood environments of either neglect or excessive praise, particularly when combined with toxic shame, devaluing, and conditional love.
Negotiating With a Narcissist? Understand Their Supply
Narcissists function from a place of survival with a fragile sense of self. They constantly look to the external world to make themselves feel better, whether through admiration or prestige. They lack a secure sense of self and are always looking for ways to feed their inner need, or as Rebecca calls it, their inner beast, externally.
Psychologists call that adulation, status, and prestige “narcissistic supply.” If they can’t get it through admiration, then they’re going to get it through devaluing and controlling others. Making others feel like less than them boosts their ego.
Narcissists also tend to be highly competitive. While a balanced personality may take joy in a friend’s success, a narcissist sees your win as their loss.
All of this is crucial to understand when negotiating with a narcissist. You may think that if you can figure out what they want, you can agree, and the nightmare will be over.
Since the narcissist needs and requires supply, they may constantly move the goalposts and throw you off balance in a hundred different ways to keep you engaged in the fight. They don’t want a resolution. They wish to disorient and control you to make themselves feel better.
In this case, Rebecca recommends looking at the narcissist in terms of what they value. Is it status? Do they want to appear powerful? Instead of negotiating the terms of an agreement, your leverage may be willing to expose them in a way that will damage their status and prestige.
Negotiate Like YOU M.A.T.T.E.R.
Whether you are negotiating with a narcissist, facing a challenging divorce, or preparing for a business negotiation, in her book Negotiate Like YOU M.A.T.T.E.R., Rebecca offers six guidelines to make the most of your opportunity.
M: My Value Is Defined by ME
There is a difference between internal value and external value. Your internal value is total and complete. You are the only person who has ever existed that is exactly like you. There is no one else exactly like you in history, and there never will be again. You have intrinsic value as a human being because you’re here.
After practicing law for about eight years, Rebecca left her law firm to work in the financial world. She had young children and wanted to be more available for them. She passed her Series 7 and Series 66 and went to work for Morgan Stanley.
A friend with a small law practice approached her. He was moving to Tampa and wanted her to take over his business. It wasn’t a large firm, but Rebecca couldn’t pass up the opportunity and left the financial world to go back into law.
On a call with her business coach, Rebecca was worried people in her small town would see her as a flake. She said, “I’m in law, then I leave to work as a financial adviser, and now I’m coming back to law. What will people think?”
Her coach replied, “They will think what you tell them to think. You’re going to tell them to think that you are more qualified than any other family law attorney because you’re the only one with a financial background. Family law cases are largely financial.”
With that shift in attitude, Rebecca presented herself differently. A lot of her clients hired her because she was the only family lawyer with a financial background.
A: Analyze, Research, Create Arguments, Find Leverage
Before you enter the negotiating room, look at the other sides’ arguments as if you were standing in their shoes. Anticipating your opponents’ arguments and presenting a ready response takes the wind out of their sails.
It’s also crucial to figure out where you have leverage. Especially when you’re dealing with a narcissist, you’ll want to identify their supply and determine an ethical way to leverage that against them.
If you’re willing to negotiate it, you should be willing to do the research. Prepare financial documents and do your discovery in advance.
Even for a mediation appointment, know what you want and be ready to make a deal. If you can resolve the issue early, you save yourself months of stress and lots of money.
T: Dress to a T and Use Power Words and Body Language
Even if you’re negotiating with someone who ripped your heart out or who you cannot stand to see, when your money, family, and life are on the line, it’s essential to a successful negotiation that you build rapport.
Dress in something that makes you feel like a million bucks. Use your body language to project confidence. Employ hand gestures, like steepling, to negotiate from a place of power.
T: Tackle the Hard Issues First
If you tackle the challenging issues while you’re fresh, you are less likely to give up important points for emotional reasons.
Rebecca recommends people prepare a best- and worst-case scenario in advance. Basically, “I would be happy with X but will walk at anything less than Y.”
That empowers you to make clear-headed decisions.
E: Keep Your Emotions Out of It
Any negotiation can be manipulated through emotion. You want to avoid making emotional decisions in a negotiation.
In divorce or partnership, they know your triggers and weaknesses and may try to play them to get what you want.
In addition to knowing your best- and worst-case scenarios in advance, know your chokepoint or the moment you will get up and walk away.
As humans, the unknown factor is terrifying. Our brain wants to know ahead of time. So, when faced with a situation where you don’t know what the outcome will be, having clear upper and lower limits will keep you from giving too much away due to high stress, anxiety, or confusion.
R: Record All Agreements in Writing
I do this as a matter of habit. After a conversation where I agree on something, I send an email.
Having it written down confirms we both heard and understood each other. If there was something important that either of us missed, the email brings it to light.
Plus, we both have something to refer to down the line, so neither of us forgets.
You Deserve to Win
If you want to see an example of negotiation in action, watch this video of Mr. Rogers asking Congress for money in 1969. At the time, he was a nobody.
Most people don’t want to fight. They want a fair deal and for everyone to be happy. However, there are times you will have to fight for what’s appropriate, especially when negotiating with a narcissist. It’s not always easy, but you deserve to give yourself the best chance possible.
For more information, check out Rebecca Zung’s books, podcast, or YouTube channel. You can also download a free worksheet and 15-page e-book on her website. And, as always, don’t hesitate to direct any questions you have to me!