In my 2009 book, “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, there was so much attention paid to the chapter titled, “Steer Clear of Toxic People” that it caused me to write my most recent book, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life.

But I have a confession to make. I no longer deal with very difficult people. Instead I recognize them early and just say, “no thanks” to them. However, I realize that many of you might not have the luxury of doing that at your stage of your career.

If so, the following Narcissist Inventory may come in handy as a way to identify them early so that when you do reach the point of not being willing to deal with them, you too will just say “no” rather than becoming involved.

To use the Narcissist Inventory, rate the person on a 1-to-3 scale (1 = rarely; 2 = sometimes; 3 = frequently):

  1. How often does the person need to be right at all costs?
  2. How often does the person act impatient with you for no good reason?
  3. How often does the person interrupt you in the middle of what you’re saying, and yet take offense if you interrupt?
  4. How often does the person expect you to drop whatever you’re thinking about and listen to him or her — and does the person take offense when you expect the same in return?
  5. How often does the person talk more than he or she listens?
  6. How often does the person say “Yes, but,” “That’s not true,” “No,” “However,” or “Your problem is”?
  7. How often does the person resist and resent doing something that matters to you, just because it’s inconvenient?
  8. How often does the person expect you to cheerfully do something that’s inconvenient for you?
  9. How often does the person expect you to accept behavior that he or she would refuse to accept from you?
  10. How often does the person fail to say “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “Congratulations,” or “Excuse me” when it’s called for?

To score your inventory, add up the total:

10-16 =The person is cooperative

17-23 = The person is argumentative

24-30 = The person is a narcissist

Okay, okay. I understand. So you can’t just say “no” just yet.

So as not to leave you hanging, here’s one strategy you can try now:

  1. Identify who he or she is by using the above inventory
  2. Never expect him or her to not act in a condescending and controlling manner (so you won’t be caught off guard or blindsided when they do)
  3. When they act in that manner, look them straight in the eye, unfazed, and let them finish whatever they’re saying
  4. When they finish, pause for two to four seconds (which will cause them to realize their usual M.O. didn’t work on you)
  5. Then say calmly, firmly and looking into their eyes, “Please repeat everything you said in the last few minutes, especially about what you want me to do, in a normal tone of voice. I have an uncontrollable habit of tuning people out when they are yelling, talking at or talking down to me, and if what you said was important for me to hear, I’m afraid you’re going to have to tell it to me again.”

Of course, if you’re one of those very lucky and self-confident individuals who may take what other people say seriously, but never take it personally, you won’t need any of the above.

By the way, if you are one of those self-possessed, unflappable and fortunate people, you might share it with someone less able to stand up for themselves.


  • Mark Goulston, M.D.

    Author, speaker, podcast host, psychiatrist

    Dr. Mark Goulston is the inventor and developer of Surgical Empathy an approach that helps people to break their attachments to counterproductive modes of functioning and frees them to connect with more productive and healthier alternatives. He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews people on the wakeup calls that changed who they are and made them better human beings and at being human and the host of the LinkedIn Live show, "No Strings Attached." He is a Founding Member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally. He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment and happiness. Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston's expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations including being a boots on the ground suicide prevention specialist and serving as an advisor in the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author or co-author of nine books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.