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How Narcissists Undermine Workplaces, Businesses (Game Changers Interview 2 of 3)

Uploaded 7/13/2021, approx. 13 minute read

Hi, everybody. Welcome today to our new episode with our talk with Dr. Sam Vaknin. And we introduced them in the previous episode. He's a psychologist and academic and studies narcissism. And this was the first one to actually explain the term narcissistic abuse.

Thank you for doing that, because it's a very specific type of abuse that is not as every other type. And today specifically predominant in our society at any level.

And today we're going to talk about the effect of narcissism on the workplace.

So the effect of having narcissistic people, not only as leaders and bosses in the workplace, but also as enablers in this hierarchy at the bottom of the workplace as much as at the tops.

So what do you think about that? What do you want to tell us about that?

Workplaces in Western civilization, at least, because not everywhere. In many countries, workplaces are arranged as networks where everyone is equal. Everyone is a node, a node in the network. So there's no hierarchy.

So when is the hierarchy then?

Hierarchy is typical to the West. It's a Western invention. It's part of Western civilization. And it's because the West essentially organizes itself around industry. And in the beginning, industry manufacturing required hierarchy. Other countries were more focused on crafts, for example. And crafts is a network approach. The craftsman interacts with his suppliers and with his clients on an equal basis. And the craftsman creates handmade products. So handmade products are much more personal, much more intimate. In other words, in countries that are not within Western civilization, the emphasis was on intimacy, the intimacy of production. Production relations and values were intimate.

But in the West, everything became impersonal. The workers became, like in Charlie Chaplin's famous movie, Modern Times, the workers were units of production, even Marx. Even Marx is describing workers as means of production. So we became impersonal numbers. It's a death cult, as I said, in our previous conversation. So we became objects.

And so in the workplace in the West, it's very difficult not to come across narcissistic dynamicsbecause the workplace objectifies you. There's a hierarchy which is very tempting. Because if there's a hierarchy, it means I have power over you. And it's very tempting to use this power and to abuse this power, because power is gratifying. Power is dopamine. Power is addictive. And the more I use my power, the more I abuse you and so on, the more gratified I am. It's like a drug addiction. You can't get enough of it.

Western workplaces encourage you to abuse power, not to use power, but to abuse power and encourage you to feel like an object. And so this creates this impersonality, removal of the personal, removal of the internet, creates an incentive for both overt narcissists and covert narcissists. The overt narcissist wants to abuse the power because it's a high. It's like a drug high. It's a trip. If I abuse you with my power, I feel grandiose. I feel great. I feel elevated and superior to you. I feel God-like. It gives me God-like power.

So the more I abuse you with my unlimited power as your boss, for example, the more I feel God-like. And the more I am unable to resist the urge to abuse you again. And at the lower level, coworkers, even subordinates, you have people who are covert narcissists and therefore they're passive aggressive.

The West is constructed around bureaucracies, even big, even private companies, they are bureaucracies. And bureaucracy is essentially a set of rules and procedures, which is a field day for covert narcissists because covert narcissists leverage rules and procedures to sabotage you, to undermine you, to torture you, to hold you back, to destroy you. They are doing everything right by the book. Absolutely.

It's not by chance. It's not by chance that many nurses starting path lawyers, for example, because they know that within the law, they can actually move and be safe that they're not doing anything wrong, but they can have fun because they are very sadistic people in the end.

But at the same time, how do you, because this is one of the topics I deal with in my page, for example, how do you feel like, you know, like you to explain, it's better if you explain it how on the workplace, these dynamics keep being perpetuated despite they're abusive, they're toxic. They don't go to for the good of anyone, especially the company, because in the end, these people don't allow good people with good intentions to move forward.

So what we have is that these people in their own small world are just getting gratification by being sadistic, but then the system is losing because of that. Good people are losing because of that.

Why do you think it's still perpetuated these things still happen?

There is a problem in economics. It's known as the agent principle problem. The agent principles problem simply means that the workers inside a system or an organization, a corporation, do not act in favor of the corporation. They act in their own favor.

So managers, managers, for example, will steal the money of the company by giving themselves inflated wages, inflated salaries. So the agents, managers, workers, co-workers, colleagues, suppliers, the agencies in the company will act against the best interests of the company and the shareholders. That is called the agent principle problem in economics.

So the best interests are not only economic. That is the big discovery of behavioral economics.

Daniel Kahneman, Tversky, other big economies, important economies discovered that people, when they use economic decision making, they are only partly rational. They are not fully irrational. They are partly irrational.

Yes. And so when you seek gratification within a bureaucracy, within an organization, within a company or corporation, within any structure, within any institution, when you seek gratification, it is only partly financial gratification. It's also emotional gratification. It's also irrational gratification.

And sometimes very often Kahneman demonstrated it and received the Nobel Prize for this.

Very often you would sacrifice money, efficiency, productivity, products, just to feel emotionally gratified. For example, to act impulsively, recklessly, callously, ruthlessly, you would give up a job.

So narcissistic managers, they don't mind if the company goes to hell. If the productivity collapses, if the workers hate them, they need the gratification of torturing you, tormenting you, abusing you, because it makes them feel like gods. Coworkers would undermine you and sabotage you passive aggressively because they need to.

It is an impulse. It's emotional. And yes, maybe because of that, they will not be promoted and they will not get a salary raise or maybe they will be fired. They will be fired, but they will still do it.

That's the big discovery of bounded rationality, bounded rationality in economics.

Crazy.

But don't you think at this point, because most times, so in one of my videos, I say that, yes, maybe for some reason, having these kind of nursing people go somewhat towards the goals of the corporation, especially at the beginning, because these are people that don't have any morals. They don't have to compromise with their values. They don't care.

So they do whatever it's asked of them.

And so sometimes good people will not do that.

So at the beginning of the stages, you know, whatever company and the country also, whatever level or the hierarchy, we have that these kind of behaviors, predatory behaviors are good for success because they allow you to conquer a lot. But after a while, every system, as you're saying, that allows these kind of people to stay on top, to keep their position to perpetrate this kind of behaviors will collapse because these people don't go, and do the interest of the system they're in.

So don't you think that corporations as well as nations are at any hierarchical level? Do you think that this kind of behavior should be somewhat eliminated or kept under control? And that's instead good people should be recognized as leaders because they have the best interest of everybody in mind?


Well, scholars like Maccoby, Maccoby and Kevin Dutton and Babiak, the collaborator of Robert Hare, these scholars have studied the issue of psychopathic narcissists in corporations, in companies, in the business world. And it's very right what you're saying. Business leaders, chief executive officers, for example, who are psychopathic narcissists, obtain better, more beneficial outcomes in the short time, in the short range, in the short term, but in the medium to long term, they destroy their companies.

Same in politics, Donald Trump, for example, yes. Or Bolsonaro in Brazil, same.

So short term, it is the dazzle and the spectacle of the short term.

One of the main reasons and one of the main problems in Western civilization, we became short termists. We think only short term, 150 characters in Twitter, the bottom line in the financial statements. We want to think maximum what would happen in the next five minutes or three months if we have very long view.

You're so right. You're so right.

And so in short term, narcissists and psychopaths have an advantage. They are really far better in the short term. Because we're all focused on the short term, the sound bite.

So we think that narcissists and psychopaths are excellent, wonderful, amazing leaders. And so we fall in this trap. In the long term, of course, they are invariably destructive to themselves, to everyone around them, to any system or institutional company they're in, utterly unmitigatedly destructive.

But even in academe, we have a contagion, we have a virus spreading. We have scholars who are writing about a functioning narcissist, how wonderful narcissists are. We have scholars in prime universities suggesting that we should put psychopaths and narcissists in positions of leadership and authority. We have this in academia of the infection.

Narcissism is born tall now. It's considered to be a competitive advantage. In July 2016, the magazine New Scientist came with a cover story. Parents, teach your children to be narcissists.

Well, in a narcissistic world, only either you are a narcissist or you just fail.

The problem is that what people don't understand, as you're saying, is that you may not want to think next to what happens after five minutes, but those five minutes are going to end and you're going to be on the sixth and then you're going to have to face it. That's the problem that people don't understand. And that's why we have today, for example, Greta Thunberg and all these new generation kids trying to fight for their own survival because they figured that people of the past generations only think about the next five minutes and they don't think about the future of the planet. But the future of the planet is our life is becoming so much longer today that you are going to be here. Everybody's going to be here in 50 years. And you're going to have to face the result of what you built.

So yeah, this is just craziness. They get it narcissistic. People have to go in power because it just leads to destruction of everything, because like what I think is that not only, you know, these hierarchical, you know, people in power and different hierarchies of different levels because they all act without coordinating with each other. But just because they're narcissistic, they all act in the same exact way. Inway.

In the end, the world is just the sum of their behaviors. They don't have to coordinate. You don't need a conspiracy to actually leave the world towards something bad. You just have to have people that for some reason act like softwares all in the same direction, like matrix, you know, like the sentinels. They all act in the same way.

So the system starts moving in that exact direction.

So how will you deal with that?

Because we need to make people understand, or at least this is my feeling, because I know unless something happens, I know I'm going to be here in a while, right? So I want to make sure that people understand that we need to invest in our future as well, because we're going to be there and we're going to need help as well.

So what would you suggest, not only to people at the bottom level, but also to leaders and to institutions? What would you suggest to deal with it and instead have a way to not have narcissistic leaders, to not have the system that is destined to collapse, but to have a system that is sustainable?


First of all, the concept of future is dead. People are voting with their actions in a way that makes clear that they don't believe in any future.

For example, marriage rate has declined by 70% in the West. Dating has declined by 56% in a single decade. People don't date anymore. The predominant sexual practice today is hookups, one-night stands.

People clearly do not believe that there is any future. One-third of people live with their parents beyond the age of 35. So there's no future.

So you believe that the point is that we all became like sick-hates, like we just leave for the moment and that's it?

And you see it in psychology as well, because in psychology we transitioned from time-oriented therapies like psychoanalysis to present-oriented therapies like mindfulness.

Today, most of our therapies, gestalt, mindfulness, they are present-oriented.

This minute, forget the past, forget the future, focus on now, the here and now, your body, your mind, here and now, it is eternal present.

And of course, consequently, we are all eternal children because you can grow up only in time. And when there's no time, there's no growth, there's no development. And so we gave up on time. We gave up on time. Now, the only solution to narcissism and psychopathy in corporations and institutions is to give up on the antiquated concept of hierarchy, to transition from hierarchy to network, because the network organizational principle has numerous advantages.

First of all, it corresponds well with technology, but it also regulates relationships between people in a way that prevents the dominance of any single individual. The network balances itself, corrects itself. The internet, for example, is a wonderful example because the internet is a totally random network.

This Zoom conference that we're having right now, it's random. We are sending our information randomly over randomly assembled and reassembled networks all the time. No one can interrupt us. No one can cut us off. Nevermind how much you try. The United States government cannot cut you and me off. No one can.

Why? Because we are using a network. No one can be dominant in a network. No one can corrupt a network. No one can affect a network. No one can compromise a network. It's not a hierarchy. This is the only organizational principle that can counter the undue influence of narcissists and psychopaths.

We transition to networks. We're safe. Even in the internet, the internet has no board of directors, no chief executive officer, nothing, and it functions perfectly.

Same with Wikipedia. We need to crowdsource power instead of concentrating it or allocating it. We need to move from committee to multitude in networks.

And this is a philosophical psychological transition that is not easy because everything is constructed around hierarchy.

We have one president of the United States. But in Switzerland, the president changes every year. So it's a network approach in Switzerland.

And who is the most stable country politically? United States or Switzerland? Switzerland.

Yeah, definitely.

I agree with all that we do in this sense because it's true that the only way to do that is actually going towards a network.

I feel like today a lot of, especially tech companies, which are the newest generation companies, are more focused on that kind of this sort of setting. Not all of them, but a lot of startups tend to facilitate this kind of structure where the person in power, also the dress code. For example, in Facebook, people tend to dress normally. So it's difficult to identify this status symbol of a manager is not there anymore. They destroyed it. You are identified by your skills, but whatever you do, but you're not better in terms of hierarchy. You are for sure, but not visibly. So that already, I feel like is a good step forward. So maybe we are moving there.

We're moving towards a world where people understood how much narcissistic behaviors and a hierarchy that allows these kind of behaviors is in fact detrimental to the system, to the world. So hopefully also our audience will agree with us and they will start requesting this sort of network-like jobs instead of having a hierarchy because they will understand the benefit of it.


And I think for today, we had a very great chat and we can go to the next episode. Thank you so much.

Thank you for having me.

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