Rebecca Zung | Negotiating with Narcissists: How to S.L.A.Y. Any Dispute
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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Negotiating with Narcissists: How to S.L.A.Y. Any Dispute
Have you ever been in a negotiation, a relationship, or a business partnership and realized that the other person had absolutely no consideration for your needs but lashes out at the slightest inconvenience?
You may have been dealing with a narcissist.
Narcissists are people who have an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings.
They can also often be charming and charismatic at first glance, but their true colors reveal themselves over time.
In September, I sat down to talk with Rebecca Zung for the Success Story Podcast, one of the most successful family law attorneys in the country and the best-selling author of Negotiate Like You M.A.T.T.E.R: The Sure Fire Method to Step Up and Win.
She once found herself in two of these narcissistic relationships at the same time — one with a business partner and one with a family member — and had to figure out a way to come out ahead. Her S.L.A.Y. method is built to give regular people the power to stand up and win against narcissists.
She walked me through the top-level overview of the method and gave me a little bit of insight into what it’s like to deal with someone that only cares about themselves.
How to spot a narcissist
Before we jump in, I think it’s important to provide a little context, because we all know the narcissist, but we may not know how to properly recognize them.
If we’re extremely lucky, we may have not even come across one in the past, but just in case you have (or potentially will), here’s a guide that will give you some insight as to who these people are… and just how to manage them.
Let’s start with a definition.
A narcissist is someone who excessively admires and loves themselves.
At the core, that seems relatively harmless… but wait… there’s more.
They have an inflated sense of self-importance and a strong need for attention and admiration. Narcissists are often very charming, but they can also be manipulative, selfish, and demanding.
If you want to spot a narcissist, look for someone who:
- Talks about themselves… a lot
- Brags and boasts about their achievements
- Has a sense of entitlement
- Is preoccupied with power and success
- Isn’t interested in other people’s feelings or needs
- Is easily insulted or offended
It’s that last point that can be so telling. A narcissist is someone who is very sensitive to criticism and can’t handle even the slightest bit of negativity.
It might surprise you to hear that some experts estimate the rate of Narcissistic Personality Disorder to be as high as 5%.
That means of the 20 people you might deal with daily, one of them is likely a narcissist.
That’s pretty scary…
But fear not, here’s your guide on how to deal with these 1/20 problematic people.
There is a term in psychology called “narcissistic supply.” This refers to the attention and admiration that a narcissist craves. They are always seeking validation and will go to great lengths to get it.
This can make them very difficult to deal with because they are never satisfied. Even if you provide them with what they want, they will still find something to complain about.
If you’re dealing with a narcissist, it’s important to understand that to them, it is a survival-level need. It comes because of deep-seated insecurity, low self-esteem, and often a trauma or deficiency in early childhood that left them feeling empty and worthless.
Understanding this kind of need can help you to be more patient with a narcissist and to see their behavior in a different light. It can also help you to set boundaries and not allow yourself to be used or manipulated. Even more, it is critical in any negotiation and the first step to implementing Rebecca’s S.L.A.Y. technique.
Ok so let’s unpack this S.L.A.Y technique,
The first step is creating a strategy. You need to understand what you want to achieve in the negotiation and what your bottom line is.
This is especially important when dealing with a narcissist because they will try to take advantage of you if they sense any weakness. They will also likely make completely unreasonable demands, so it’s important to know what you can and cannot compromise on.
Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, you need to be prepared to stick to them and pursue them aggressively. Even if this is normally against your nature, it is essential when dealing with a narcissist. They will try to wear you down and make you feel like you are the one being unreasonable.
It’s also important to remember that a narcissist is not interested in hearing your side of the story or understanding your point of view. They only want to be heard and they will quickly become impatient if you don’t let them have their say. So, be prepared for this by having a clear idea of what you want to say and how you want to say it.
When we got to this point, I could really start to see how tough a negotiator Rebecca was. Her tactics even unsettled me, and we were just having a friendly conversation — I wouldn’t want to be across from her in a board room.
She’s a total bad ass.
Gaining leverage against a narcissist is critical, and Rebecca suggests targeting their “diamond source of supply” or in other words, the thing they value most. This could be their reputation, their power, or their money. Whatever it is, you need to find a way to use it against them.
One way to do this is by threatening to expose them. For example, if you know they have been engaging in unethical behavior, you can threaten to go public with the information unless they agree to your terms. This is a very effective tactic because narcissists are very afraid of being exposed and losing their image.
But the point is, you need to figure out what that particular thing is and double down on it,
Does that make your spine tingle a little bit? I know mine sure did (remember how I told you she was a bad ass?)
Outing someone’s personal life isn’t something I’m immediately ready to do but the way Rebecca put it was “ethically manipulate the manipulator.”
These tactics are reserved for the worst of the worst, who are actively trying to cause you harm, so in Rebecca’s mind, you need to play by their rules (ONLY while dealing with them).
Another way to gain leverage is by playing on their need for approval. For instance, you can agree to give them what they want but only if they meet your demands first. This will make them feel like they are in control and getting the upper hand, which is something they crave.
The key here is to be creative and think outside the box. There is always a way to gain leverage against a narcissist, you just have to find it.
Third is anticipating the tactics a narcissist is likely to use against you and preparing for them in advance. Narcissists are known for being manipulative, so it’s important to be aware of the different ways they might try to take control of the situation.
- Playing the victim: They will try to make you feel sorry for them or paint themselves as the victim to gain sympathy.
- Gaslighting: This is a technique whereby a narcissist will try to make you question your reality or memory. They will lie and distort the truth to confuse you.
- Projection: This is when a narcissist projects their flaws onto you in an attempt to deflect responsibility.
- Coercion: They may try to force you into agreeing with them by using intimidation or threats.
It’s important to be prepared for these tactics so that you can keep control of the situation. The best way to do this is by staying calm and not reacting emotionally to anything they say or do.
(Focusing on) You
The thing that Rebecca was most clear about was the importance of your mindset going into a negotiation, and believing that you can win it. If you aren’t confident, the narcissist will sense it and use it against you. So, the first step is to get into the right frame of mind.
Rebecca also stressed the importance of focusing on your own needs and not getting caught up in what the narcissist wants. It can be easy to get wrapped up in their drama and forget what you’re trying to achieve. But if you keep your eye on the prize, you’re more likely to come out ahead.
If you find yourself in this kind of situation, it would likely do some good to check out Rebecca’s negotiation worksheet or check out her other appearances in places like Forbes, NPR, or Time magazine.
There was a bunch more that she touched on in our talk, though, including her struggles of taking law school at night with three small children, teaching elementary school in the inner-city, and leaving a hugely successful law practice behind to focus on helping people learn the skill of negotiating.
If you want to check out the rest of the interview, or any of the other hundreds of podcast episodes, head over to the Success Story YouTube channel and subscribe!
I’ll be back next week with another incredible guest.
Success Story Podcast
If you like the content in this newsletter, I host a Top 10 Business podcast, (with over 20m downloads) called “Success Story”, where I interview entrepreneurs, executives and other high performing individuals so you can learn lessons and insights from the world-renowned leaders.
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