How to Spot a Narcissist in One Swoop

Narcissists are unfortunately common in the workplace, and whilst their unshakeable self belief can be a virtue, more often than not it prevents them from listening to feedback or accepting the way they do things could be in any way wrong.

You might think that the size of their head would be an easy way to spot such a character, but a new study suggests there may be an even easier method - and that is simply to ask them.

The finding emerged from a series of 11 experiments that involved over 2,200 people.  The researchers found that they could reliably identify the narcissists amongst us by simply asking them one question:

To what extent do you agree with this statement: "I am a narcissist." (Note: The word "narcissist" means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.)

Participants were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the most true.  The results of the experiment revealed a close correlation between the results from this question and other measures of narcissim.  These included the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is a widely used tool to measure the trait in people.

Suffice to say, the new approach is significantly simpler than this approach however, with the single question comparing favourably to the 40 questions required in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

"People who are willing to admit they are more narcissistic than others probably actually are more narcissistic," said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

"People who are narcissists are almost proud of the fact. You can ask them directly because they don’t see narcissism as a negative quality – they believe they are superior to other people and are fine with saying that publicly."

Suffice to say, the impact of such an understanding could be widespread.  For instance, in the workplace, the narcissist thinks they’re great, all of the time.  Therefore there’s little incentive to improve, nor even to consider other points of view, much less go out of their way to help colleagues.

Could we see a situation where this question starts to crop up on recruitment tests?  It certainly seems a possibility, especially as the method was validated across the 11 experiments undertaken by the research team.

These 11 experiments explored the methodology from a number of angles.  For instance, some would study college students, whilst others would look at adults alone.  Whilst the researchers are at pains to point out that they don’t believe this test should replace all existing measures for narcissism, they believe it has a time and a place.

It’s likely that such a time and place will be during the recruitment or appraisal processes, whereby more in depth psychological analysis is perhaps not possible or inappropriate.  This shorter test would therefore provide an accurate and efficient glance inside the mind of the person involved, and hopefully give managers an accurate understanding of just how narcissistic that person is.

You can take the test here for free.  Let me know in the comments how you got on.

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