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Whether it’s in your personal or professional life, chances are high that, at some point, you’ll have to negotiate with a highly difficult person—maybe even a narcissist.
Based on her own research and experience, attorney Rebecca Zung says a narcissist is someone who, more often than not, bulldozes others with threatening words or actions, intimidation tactics and erratic behavior, especially when they’re not getting their way. Although they may be charming and winsome at first, a narcissist’s true colors will likely come through when you live or work with them in close proximity.
What’s a good clue someone in your life might be a narcissist? “That pit-in-your-stomach feeling of dread whenever you have to deal with them,” Zung writes in her book, SLAY the Bully: How to Negotiate With a Narcissist and Win.
Zung has made a living as a divorce attorney helping high net-worth clients, A-list celebrities and more navigate the complexities of negotiating through some of the most challenging circumstances with extremely difficult people.
But her experience with bullying began when she was much younger.
Rebecca Zung’s experience with bullies
Zung grew up in northern Virginia in the 1970s, where the echoes of racism still resounded on the heels of the Loving v. Virginia case. This ruling overturned laws preventing interracial marriage—the cornerstone of Zung’s family. When her white mother and Asian father decided to marry, they had to do so in Washington, D.C., as their union would have been illegal in Virginia at the time.
Zung says that because she’s biracial, her childhood was plagued with bullying, starting at the bus stop in her white community. The abuse was relentless in the form of racial slurs, mockery and bullying. In response to the cruelty, Zung would freeze—and in the absence of support and understanding from her home life, this became her go-to response.
“You have to remember that this was the 1970s,” Zung says. “There was no one talking about anti-bullying around the dinner table or on television talk shows.”
Years later, Zung found herself the unwitting target of a toxic, covert-narcissist business partner. Within just a short time of being in business with her, Zung’s old wounds began to resurface: feelings of not being good enough, of being voiceless and powerless.
Zung realized she’d been dealing with narcissists throughout her entire law career. And while the word “narcissist” specifically refers to someone on the scale of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) with a long list of attributes, Zung likes to think the word “narcissist” is really just another word for a grown-up bully.
Unfortunately, there’s a chance you may have a run-in with one of these grown-up bullies. Clinical research has indicated that the prevalence of NPD could be up to 15% of the U.S. population.
“Narcissists do not think like non-narcissistic people,” Zung says. “Their brains do not function in the same way as the rest of the world’s … so you cannot interact, negotiate or deal with them the same. If you do, you will fail—and fail miserably.”
How to win negotiations with a bully
The good news, Zung discovered, is that while narcissists may be some of the most unpleasant people you can be close to, they can be extremely predictable and easy-to-read.
“Narcissists follow patterns,” she says. “Tracking those patterns is how I was able to develop my SLAY Method® and know that, when followed precisely, it works every time, and you can win every time.”
In fact, with her years of experience in navigating high-stakes negotiations, she developed a four-step plan that makes winning a near guarantee when executed properly. This four-step method, outlined below, is included in her book, SLAY the Bully.
Step 1: Create a strong strategy.
This includes two parts:
- A clear vision of the desired outcome
- An action plan that informs and supports that vision
Without this vital first step, the leverage you create in Step 2 is rendered ineffective.
Step 2: Create leverage.
In this stage, Zung explains that you need to gather documentation and evidence that displays the narcissist’s inconsistent behaviors and statements. “As you build the documentation, major patterns will emerge that can then be used to make them see that they can’t abuse you anymore,” she writes in SLAY the Bully.
Step 3: Anticipate their next move and how to stay two steps ahead of them.
Remember, as difficult as narcissists are, they are also extremely predictable because of their patterns. You’ll learn what feeds their ego and begin to predict when they attempt to mess with you—all of which helps you to recognize when they can be trapped making blatant missteps.
Step 4: Take the offensive with a powerful mindset.
By being strong in mind, knowing what to anticipate, being prepared with leverage and equipped with a strategy to win, you can do much more than survive the narcissist: You can disarm them. You can create a winning outcome.