Let’s face it…
We all know a narcissistic coworker.
We either work with them or we’re on the same team as them. Whichever the situation, most of us (if not all) can identify the habits, speech tendencies, and characteristics of their boat-sized egos in some way shape or form.
If you know what I’m talking about, continue reading.
Say hello to Don Hambrick, an internationally recognized scholar in the field of management. Don is the author of numerous articles, chapters, and books on strategy formulation, strategy implementation, executive staffing, incentives, and the composition and processes of top management teams. For the sake of this article, Don is also most importantly known for his research on narcissism in the workplace.
As I read through his publications, I came across one article highlighting narcissism. He sought to understand if narcissism benefited or hurt CEOs in various companies. To understand if it does or doesn’t, Don ranked hundreds of CEOs based on public interviews and counted how many times they used singular personal pronouns versus plural personal pronouns. He believes (and I tend to agree) that narcissistic people use “I”, and “me” more than non-narcissistic people who use the plural forms, “we” and “us.” Not surprisingly, his results put Steve Jobs and Larry page at the top of the list.
So this notion got me thinking – since narcissistic people are everywhere, and according to Don are some of the most recognizable leaders in the world, is narcissism really all that bad? What about customer service, is it bad for that?
Conventional wisdom would say no, but challenging conventional wisdom is the only way to find new methods of operation, new ways of managing, and new ways of improving business outcomes.
So let’s dive in.
Can narcissism help customer service departments?
In the past, customer service departments were considered cost centers. In 2017 they’re now seen as driving forces of most companies, providing central information to make educated and informed business decisions. Their knowledge is critical for marketing, sales, and product.
So what role does narcissism play in customer service? To examine this we need to take a few steps back and look at the English language.
The English language can be broken down into two types of words: content words and function words.
Content words are usually nouns, verbs, adjectives, and sometimes adverbs. These are the vivid words that paint pictures in our heads; they give us the contents of our story and tell our listener where to focus his or her attention.
Function words are pronouns, determiners, prepositions, and auxiliary verbs. If function words are missing or used incorrectly, we are probably considered poor English speakers. Since function words don’t give us the main information, we don’t usually need to do anything to stress their importance.
We use about 100 common function words daily that help guide our emotional reactions to different conversations. Some of these function words showcase narcissism, and as a narcissistic speaker, the words “I” and “me” do two things, they undermine the relationship they have with their team, while also demonstrating confidence and certainty- a noble trait in any customer service position.
On the flip side, companies that push customer service departments to use “we” and “us,” create collaboration and teamwork (which is good! I’m not knocking on that), but these plural pronouns undermine the credibility of support itself. Saying “we” is an easy way to hide behind the responsibility of completing something as an individual. If the project doesn’t get completed, it allows the individual to fall back on the group, diffusing the responsibility from themselves to the entire team (this is known as the Ringelmann Effect and all managers should be aware of this).
As a customer, hearing “we” isn’t always what you want to hear. Customers want to know that the person they’re talking to is personally taking care of the situation themselves.
Here is an example: