The rise of narcissism seen in society today is having a significant impact in the interview room.  It effects many areas of the interview and must be continually assessed and proactively addressed to maximize your interview results.  One of the most substantive areas requiring our attention is how we build and execute themes given this cultural phenomenon.  What does this excessive narcissism say as to how we build today’s themes?

Examples of this narcissistic malaise abound in society and the media today.  One recent news blast occurred in New York State with Congressman Anthony Weiner.  What is the case of Anthony Weiner really all about? Well, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has an insightful and profound take on the whole sorry affair.

Douthat writes, “In the sad case of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s virtual adultery, the Internet era’s defining vice has been thrown into sharp relief. It isn’t lust or smut or infidelity, though online life encourages all three. It’s a desperate, adolescent narcissism.”  Douthat is absolutely right. Weiner wasn’t out for sexual thrills. Opportunities for that kind of misbehavior are rampant in the halls of Congress as we repeatedly see.

No, Weiner, according to Douthat, was on a “pathetic quest for quasi-public validation.” Weiner’s Tweets and emails don’t reveal a man who wanted a relationship with women other than his wife. He simply wanted to show off. “Whether the congressman was tweeting photos of his upper body or bragging” about some other body part, Douthat observes, Weiner’s focus was “squarely on himself.”

Now, the Internet didn’t launch us into the age of narcissism. But it sure makes it easier to engage in self-absorption. A “growing body of research,” Douthat writes, “suggests that American self-involvement is actually reaching an apogee in the age of Facebook and Twitter.” Citing well-regarded sociologists, Douthat claims that “younger Americans are more self-absorbed, less empathetic and hungrier for approbation than earlier generations…

“The rituals of social media,” Douthat claims, “make status-seekers and exhibitionists of us all.” We live in a culture of narcissism, as one sociologist famously put it some years ago.

But there’s another point that I need to make and it is how we deal with the appearance of this narcissistic mindset in the interview room.  If we have planned well, we will know of its coming appearance well before the interview room, but even in the impromptu interview, we must recognize it for what it is when it rears its ugly, self-serving head.

Congressman Weiner recently announced that he was seeking a leave of absence from Congress so he could undergo therapy.  Therapy for what?  For repulsive behavior?  For the inability to refrain from taking lewd photos of himself and sending them to innocent people?  So how does Weiner perceive his problem, as an illness, sickness, or something that requires retraining?  Or does he believe in his narcissistic mind frame that the therapy is a way to get his life back on track, and he believes there is nothing wrong with him.  Is he this narcissistic?

This view and attitude will significantly affect what themes will be considered, developed and executed during interviews?  No matter what the self-identified reason is, we must get the interviewee to accept responsibility for what happened, with a focus on moving beyond this issue, not with a focus on the consequences.

But in today’s therapeutic culture, people too often try to explain away their bad behavior. “I really have a drinking problem,” someone protests, or, “it’s a chemical imbalance,” or “I was picked on as a child.” Well, all that may be so, but those things did not drive you to what you did. I do not want to discount the existence of grave psychological illnesses, but the vast majority of us choose to behave the way we do.  It is our choice.  And, our rationalizations to justify it and make it somehow acceptable to us.

Those feelings of guilt and shame that so many of us nowadays try to medicate or explain away are essential to our moral and spiritual well-being. They are warning lights that all is not well with our souls. We ignore them or disable them at our own peril.  These must be explored during the interview so that we can arrive at appropriate themes that will lead to confession, or the truth.  We must resolve this disconnect in the interview process.

I suppose if any good is to come from the Weiner episode, it may be that people can see where the me-centered, post-modern worldview leads us: To narcissism and to the therapist’s couch.

Here are two worldview lessons for us:

First: The cure for narcissism is stepping away from the mirror and looking at someone else – focusing on others — this is just what we must do in the interview to be successful.

Second: Taking a pill or undergoing therapy will be no substitute for forgiveness, and absolving the confliction of our moral compass, and bringing ourselves back into equilibrium.

When we look at this and the examples that abound around us, it says a lot about how we should endeavor to build themes!  When we are looking to develop themes for interrogations, we need to do all the backgrounding and planning necessary to understand the individual to whom we are speaking.  Those intricacies that explain who they are, where they come from, and how they think, but we also need to remain cognizant of societal trends that are occurring generally.  Some of those are seen based on age, ethnicity, religion, and many other societal factors.

As we endeavor to learn about the individual in our pre-interview work, we also need to be accessing where they fall within societal generalities, and look for evidence in their beliefs, via their behaviors as to where they stand and how they will likely respond.

Narcissism is a perfect example of this.  The turning in on oneself is representative of much that is happening in society.  The sense of entitlement, the egocentric behaviors, the lack of involvement outside of self-serving avenues, are rampant in America today.  When we consider this, we realize that much of our theme building, better not be about ourselves, but must be about our interview target.  Those themes must be constructed to focus on that individual’s needs, issues, and concerns.  They should be selfish-driven, like they are.

If you find the individual that has escaped the grip of this self-centeredness, you will pick it up quickly and deviate to more applicable themes, but I believe you will see this in preparation well before you ever work at developing your themes.  You will see it in the way this person lives.  Their involvement in other peoples’ lives, their giving habits, and essentially their lack of self-focus.  Theming here may be connected to them doing what they did for someone else or for someone else’s needs.

It matters not what you believe when you observe this narcissistic behavior in an interviewee, because what you think (or your bias) is irrelevant to gaining information and an admission.  What matters is how this person thinks….and how the world around them….operates in their mind.  We must attempt through planning and investigation to observe this from their perspective.  What matters to them, what creates fear for them, and more importantly what will get them beyond that fear?

Anderson Investigative Associates is positioned to custom tailor training to your specific needs.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss the above or any training need, please reach out to me.  Additional issues pertaining to interviewing and investigations can be found in other blogs that I have written and are contained in most blocks of instruction that our company presents.

If you have additional questions, comments, or have an interviewing topic you would like me to address, give me a shout.  In the meantime, be well and be safe out there.

Mark A. Anderson

Director of Training and Development

Anderson Investigative Associates, llc

114 Loucks Avenue

Scottdale, PA 15683