Chloe McLachlan's work life is blighted by an insufferable colleague; by Christa Carmen.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, or the DSM-5, to diagnose narcissistic personality disorder the following criteria must be met: Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by either impairments in identity (exaggerated self-appraisal) or self-direction (goal-setting based on gaining approval from others), and impairments in interpersonal functioning such as empathy or intimacy.
Pathological personality traits are displayed via antagonism (grandiosity and attention seeking), and the impairments in personality functioning and the individual's personality trait expression are "relatively stable across time and consistent across situations, are not better understood as normative for the individual's developmental stage or socio-cultural environment, and are not due to the effects of a substance or a general medical condition."
Though not a psychologist, Chloe McLachlan could endorse each and every symptom that Kyle Pratt exhibited, effectively diagnosing him a narcissist. He told never-ending stories of the superior feats of his childhood. In his constant need to be admired, he could be counted on to shove his phone under Chloe's nose before she had taken a sip of her coffee to show her a photo of the 'artwork' he'd drawn for his 'band's album cover,' or a video of his daughter garbling a mumbled and mixed up version of the ABCs, an act of unparalleled accomplishment. The day would drag on, Kyle would predictably become frustrated with his workload, and this would prompt him to disappear for forty-five minutes at a time. He was apathetic in his callousness; it never occurred to him that the shirking of his responsibilities repeatedly put him at odds with the other members of his team.
They had both started at the technology company in August. In October, Kyle playfully joked to their boss, six managerial positions up and at the top of the corporate hierarchy, that Chloe had managed to be hired into the same position as he had because her mother worked for the company. Chloe smiled, determined to be the 'good sport' she knew upper management liked to see, but seethed with silent indignation. She knew Kyle was aware that her resume included both a Masters and an undergraduate Ivy League degree, and that when he had discovered this, he had frantically attempted to save face by talking up some esoteric honors program he'd been inducted into at his community college the next town over.
In December, a snow storm hit New England. The Connecticut site of the tech company closed for the inclement weather, and Chloe's team was instructed to work from home. Not yet fully trained on the phones, Chloe and Kyle were responsible for the team's shared email inbox, and after setting up her home office space, Chloe put her head down and got to work. When she stopped for a break four hours later, she noticed that Kyle's online status was 'inactive,' and he hadn't completed a single task since they had started. That's it, Chloe thought, enough is enough.
In as nice a tone as possible, she sent Kyle a message explaining that since they were sharing the responsibility for the inbox, she'd appreciate if they could balance out the workload a little more evenly the second half of the day. Kyle did not answer, but ten minutes later, she received an email addressed to their immediate supervisor, with her own name included in the recipients' field: "Dear Tabitha, I am extremely hurt and offended by the accusations of my colleague, Chloe McLachlan. Despite working at the outermost limits of my capabilities and dealing with a sick daughter, home from daycare today and desperate for her father to comfort her, I also have to deal with Chloe micromanaging me and my work, and thought you would like to be made aware of what has been transpiring.
"I truly feel that Chloe spends more time evaluating the quantity of my work than she does the quality of her own. I am aware that the managerial aspects are to be left to you - you are the maestro! - but feel some individuals need to be reminded of this. Bottom line is that I am so grateful to be a member of this team, and just want us to all work together on our common goal of delivering fabulous service to our clients. I'm in it to win it! Thank you... Kyle Pratt."
In January, looking for something fun to participate in to beat the winter blues, several colleagues asked Chloe if she was interested in going in on a 'hive' with them. Hope and Kayla had a friend in another department who was a bona fide beekeeper, and if they purchased the queen, the worker bees, and the hive, he would construct the hive on his five-acre property, maintain the honey bee colonies, and collect the honey from the apiary. They had the queen, buzzing about in her mesh-and-wood box, shipped to the office as a tangible manifestation of their purchase, and Stephen, the beekeeper, dropped by to give them some insight into how the process would unfold over the next few months.
Kyle, unwilling to participate in any endeavor in which he did not see a clear opportunity to become an object of absolute veneration, had refused his colleagues' invitation to stake a claim in the future honey production. Now, as Stephen addressed their small group, describing the gloves, suit, and veiled hat he wore to work among the bees, as well as the amount of honey his modest production had netted the previous season, Kyle elbowed his way into the circle and interrupted him.
"My brother keeps bees. Did you know that you can get stung so many times you can develop a deadly allergic reaction to bee stings? That's what happened to my brother. But even though he's severely allergic, and has to carry an EpiPen, he still keeps like, thirty hives on his property. And we get a ton of honey from him. The last time he gave us honey, I told him that I didn't think I'd ever had such sweet, succulent honey. It's in a whole different league than what you buy at the grocery store, or even any other local honey I've tasted."
Stephen nodded at Kyle and smiled politely, then turned his attention back to Chloe, Hope, and Kayla. He continued chronicling the details of what would soon be the girls' personal operation, and Chloe tried to put Kyle out of her mind, thinking instead of how lovely it would be to have fresh, unadulterated honey to add to her tea come fall, when she could curl up in an armchair in her cozy living room, read a book, and pretend that this office, and Kyle Pratt, did not exist.
In March, a woman Chloe recognized as a member of the quality control department, but had never met, did a double take as she ambled past Chloe's cubicle. Chloe followed the woman's gaze to a maroon folder emblazoned with 'University of Pennsylvania' on the cover in embossed gold print. Chloe kept updated copies of her resume in the folder, and was glad it was closed; she did not want to advertise that she was looking for a new job to anyone that happened to be walking by.
"My Alma mater!" the woman exclaimed. "Did you go to Penn? I was class of '79, member of the crew team all four years as a Quaker!"
"Oh wow, no kidding? I was class of 2007, and I did gymnastics there. We used to share a locker room with the crew team!" Chloe replied. She turned to face the woman squarely, glad she was using the standing feature of her desk so as to make their interaction more direct. She smiled, excited to meet a fellow Penn alumni, and knowing it couldn't hurt to network with a new connection in the office. As she did, someone else crowded into the open frame of her cube.
"Are you guys reminiscing about your athletic glory days?" Kyle asked. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "Oh man, I used to play so many sports in middle school and high school, my parents finally made me suck it up and pick just one to concentrate on. I picked soccer and boy, was my high school coach grateful for that decision! We used to crush every team we played, but even if we were having a bad day, oh man, I remember it like it was yesterday... the coach would be freaking out, yelling 'You guys are playing awful, if it wasn't for Kyle here, you'd have blown the game!'" He looked to the woman, as if waiting for her to ask for more details. When she didn't, he launched into a tirade of information regarding his current workout practices, pausing only long enough to stuff handfuls of sour gummy bears into his mouth.
"I'm one of those anomalies that can lift weights and do cardio only occasionally, and still eat whatever I want. I won't lie, I have a bit of a sweet tooth," he said, and licked his index finger to swipe up the remaining sugar from the corner of the bag.
"That sounds nice," the woman said, her voice flat and emotionless. "Anyways, it was nice talking to... you both." Chloe watched her walk away, and Kyle turned to her, his braggart features oozing satisfaction so intently that she wished the floor of her cube would open up and swallow her whole.
It rained almost every day in April. Having been employed at the technology company for eight months now, Chloe was devastated to learn that the larger pharmaceutical corporation her company was contracted to had discovered a mistake she had made while assisting a client. Like any large corporate being, there were extensive corrective and preventative measures that had to be explored in the wake of her mistake, and Chloe spent weeks mortified and dismayed every time she booted up her computer, and a new humiliation was waiting to accost her.
First, there was the crow-eating email. Bullet points like 'consider how the process broke down,' and 'define the steps you will implement to ensure greater accuracy in your work,' really translated to: 'explain exactly how you screwed up, and what you will do to not screw up again.' Then, there were the endless conference calls. These calls consisted of Chloe groveling to no less than five bosses, each one a step up on the managerial ladder, the head of quality, and the Human Resources representative for her contracted company. This last meeting attendee bothered her most of all. Chloe wanted to be making a good impression and setting herself up for the first promotion that presented itself, and here she was, being punished and scolded in front of a whole gamut of influential people. She even had to undergo the shame of the mistake being blamed on the fact that she'd been granted permission to work the early shift, a start time that put her in the office alone for an hour and a half each morning, during which she had no 'mentors' to confer with if she ran into an issue she wasn't sure how to solve. Chloe did not made it out of the meeting with her preferred early start time intact, and would be required to come in at nine o'clock beginning the following Monday.
The first day post-discovery of the mistake that Chloe wasn't required to be on a conference call, Kyle sent her an email, the subject line of which was: "Keep Yer Chin Up."
The email was as follows: "Chloe, I just wanted to let you know how awful I feel for you. You have been put through the wringer these last few weeks, but remember, as the great Confucius said, 'our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." I mean they really gave it to you the past two weeks. How many conference calls do you think you had to call in to? Six? Seven? The backlash after you make a mistake here is unbelievable! It makes me so so grateful that I have not had to go through that! Just think, you'll have such valuable lessons to pass on to the next new hire here, lessons that you had to come by the hard way, that they'll only be able to get from you. Well anyways, if you need any assistance in the future with setting up tech sites for the particular client that you messed up on previously, please just let me know! I'm only a cube away." His signature was followed by a smiley face emoji.
Chloe exercised every ounce of control she had not to scream. She read the email only once, knowing if she reread it, it would only stoke the fire of her rage. To further avoid an outburst, her brain harped on the second to last line of the message, and suddenly she was curious. The nature of their business was that they opened a ticket for each and every task they completed. It would be easy to see if Kyle had indeed set up similar sites for the client she'd failed with, and if so, how many. She did a search of the system using his user name and the site's client code. Nothing. The weasel was offering her assistance when he hadn't even completed a similar task himself.
Her curiosity piqued further, she did a search of the complete number of tickets Kyle had closed since they'd started in August. There were four-hundred and twelve. Then she did a search of the number of tickets she had completed. Twelve-hundred and three. She stared at the screen, unblinking. No wonder she had made a mistake and he hadn't. She'd had three times as many opportunities to make one!
That night, as Chloe lay in bed, she composed the speech she would deliver to her supervisor the following morning. She tossed and turned for what seemed like hours, but once she was satisfied that she would be able to make Tabitha understand the nature of Kyle's antagonistic schemes, she fell into a deep and restful sleep.
Tabitha had meetings for much of the morning, and before Chloe could carve out a half an hour to speak with her, she'd repeated her internet search of 'narcissistic personality disorder in the workplace,' wondering if she would find any useful tips in dealing with one. What she found dissuaded her from going to Tabitha completely. "When the narcissist is exposed, or even when someone attempts to expose him, the narcissist often has already put things in place to protect himself," Chloe read. She could see Kyle using anything at his disposal to discredit her, and remembered the email he'd written to Tabitha when she'd accused him of not pulling his weight while working from home. He would play dirty, she knew, and use anything he had to in order to make Chloe out to be the troublemaker. She read about narcissistic rage, and realized that Kyle would generally make her life so unpleasant that it would be easier to just forget the whole thing. So she did her best to do just that.
Summer came, and Stephen brought in more jars of dark, sweet honey than the girls could eat. Chloe, Hope, and Kayla listened with rapt attention to his stories of the frenzied activity in the hive at the height of summer, and interesting factoids about the life of a worker bee being as short as six weeks, or the size of the male drones versus the female workers and the queen. Kyle skulked in the background, clearly dying to be included in their conversations, or to be offered a taste of their bees' fruition, but was too proud to pursue either one. He glared at Stephen's back as Stephen mimed removing the honey from the hive, and didn't even turn away when he saw Chloe regarding him.
A week later, the last week of July, Chloe walked into the office at her old arrival time of six forty-five a.m. She had some reports she wanted to run, and missed the quiet of the early morning hours. From nine to five, the office took on the constant droning she imagined would be present in one of their bee hives. Dropping her purse on her desk, she was startled to hear a noise coming from the cube behind her. Kyle's cube. Incredulous, she peeked around the barricade and saw his horn-rimmed glasses and shiny, entitled face.
"Hey," he said, happy as a pig in shit. "You here to welcome the new seven-A.M.-er?" Chloe said nothing. She was too afraid that if she opened her mouth, every rage-filled thought she'd ever entertained would come tumbling out. "Really, what are you doing here?" he asked, his eyes narrowing. "They asked me to start at seven today, and you've been off this shift for a long time."
"I just came in to run some reports, that's all," she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Oh, I gotcha," Kyle said, his chipper, victorious attitude returning immediately. "Hey, check this out!" He turned his backpack over onto his desk, and several plastic jars of honey and a few dozen small bags of sweet-and-sour candy fell out. He turned the jars upright and beamed at her. "I brought in my brother's honey! Now everyone can see how much better it is than that guy Stephen's. My brother really knows what he's doing. He's been doing it for years. Did I tell you that he's gotten stung so many times he's developed a deadly allergic reaction to bee stings? Crazy right?"
Chloe said nothing again, just watched him. As he prattled on, he tore open a bag of gummy worms, and shoved a huge handful in his mouth. Still talking, he unscrewed a jar of the honey. It didn't even look like fresh honey, Chloe thought. It looked like he ripped the label off of a bunch of store-bought jars.
"I'm so psyched to be on the early shift now. I hear they only give it to the people they really trust. I mean, it makes sense. I put my all into this job... I'm really in it to win it."
With the huge wad of gummy worms still in his mouth, Kyle raised an almost overflowing spoonful of honey into his mouth and plunged it in. It looked for a second like he would be able to swallow it, then unable to help himself, he tried to vocalize one last thinly veiled insult, and his throat caught.
Kyle's boastful expression turned to panic. He made the universal sign of choking at her, and stamped his feet like a child having a temper tantrum in the candy aisle. Chloe did not move.
His struggle lasted maybe two minutes, and then he lay, motionless and blue, on the floor of his cube, the carpet dirty from spilled soft drinks and the crumbs of every kind of junk food the office vending machine offered. As calm as could be, Chloe collected her purse, and walked quickly and quietly out of the office.
It was August again. Chloe beamed as she stood around the conference table with her co-workers, about to cut into her one-year anniversary cake. A few people were missing from her department, but all in all it was a good turnout. The day before, Kayla had offered to pick up a sheet cake from the nearby bakery, but Chloe had declined. She had wanted to make the cake herself. She had a great recipe for a honey vanilla pound cake.