If you frequently feel demeaned, undermined, over-looked or over-worked, harassed, or bullied at work you might be working for a narcissistic boss, supervisor or manager. They can be young or old, male or female. What makes them toxic is that they have little or no empathy or concern for others. They are self-centered and self-serving. They seem to almost enjoy intimidating the workers under them. Narcissistic bosses usually reward those who “suck up” to them, those who support their distorted view of reality, and those who work hard in order to make the boss look good.
A narcissistic boss has an insatiable need for admiration and is obsessed with self-importance. In an effort to have people admire, applaud and envy him, he stops at nothing to maintain his image. He (or she) tries to act like a compassionate human being but his behaviors indicate otherwise; instead he is constantly attention-seeking and overwhelming arrogant. Having a narcissistic boss can cause your work environment to become a nightmare. A narcissist is not prone to changing himself; therefore, learning how to cope with a narcissistic boss is the key to maintaining your sanity and your job.
Characteristics of a Narcissistic Boss
A narcissistic boss usually considers his staff simply as suppliers of praise, approval, admiration and attention. He or she readily shifts the blame to others but takes full responsibility for any positive achievements. He may resort to demeaning and humiliating others just to preserve his own sense of superiority. What are the signs that your boss is narcissistic? (The list below starts with “he” but it applies equally to all the “she” bosses).
- He is outwardly charming but inwardly dull – he feigns caring for his group but actually feels nothing
- He is charismatic – he has an energy, enthusiasm and positivity about him that is contagious
- He believes that the rules don’t apply to him – despite the advice anyone gives him, he always follows his own advice and rules
- He is frighteningly insincere – he looks you in the eye and tells you a complete, outlandish lie without blinking
- He lacks any concern for others – he appears unfeeling
- He demonstrates an absolute inability to be challenged.
- He reacts to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation
- He takes advantage of other people in order to achieve his own goals
- He has excessive feelings of self-importance
- He exaggerate his achievements and talents
- He appears to be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love
- He has an unreasonable expectation that he should have favorable treatment or be treated specially
- He needs constant attention and admiration
- He disregards the feelings of others, and has little ability to feel empathy
- He pursues mainly selfish goals rather than the company or organization’s goals
If your boss possesses these qualities, resigning from your job is not the only answer. You can also learn how to adapt and deal with that kind of boss; it will not only make your life at work less hostile but also more productive.
How to Deal with the Boss
Here are a few strategies for coping with a narcissistic boss:
- Never disagree or contradict him. You will only put yourself on bad footing with your boss and then find yourself the target for his negative comments thereafter. You cannot win an argument with a person who never backs down or owns up to his mistakes.
- Pretend to be impressed by the self- attributes that he expresses whether it is his professional achievements, his good looks or his success with women.
- Do not make any remarks which might directly or indirectly bear upon his self-image, superior judgment, skills or professional record. Your sentences should never start with: “you cannot”, “you overlooked”, “you should” or “do you know” as these are interpreted as rude implications or as restrictions on their freedom.
- Realize that a part of your job is to make him look good. If you have significantly contributed to a company achievement, include your boss in the credit, even if he had nothing to do with it. Acknowledging his support, “genius” or leadership, will satisfy his ego and make your employment go more smoothly. You might want to ask him for advice occasionally (even if you never heed it); this will boost his self-importance.
- Keep him informed on all communications you have with his boss and important clients. Though you may hate having to flatter him, look at the big picture—he will view you as invaluable to him. Plus, the more favorable he looks, the better his chances of getting a promotion, which means you may not have to interact with him directly anymore.
- Listen to his self-important speeches. A narcissistic boss is always looking for ways to promote himself so he can climb further up the corporate ladder. Rest assured that while he is rambling about himself, something or somebody he deems more important than you will come along and steal his attention.
- Do not be at his disposal every minute of the day. Your narcissistic boss may want (and expect) to consume all your time, even when you are at home. If it becomes a problem, try having a diplomatic conversation with him, but do not indicate that your home life is more important than your job. Explain that your family and other commitments also need you. Strike a compromise with him, such as checking your email and voicemail at specific times. Stick to this plan, even if he tries to stray from it.
- If a compromise is ineffective, subtly sabotage his invasion into your private time. For example, when he calls you, try to find an area (e.g. your attic or basement) where the phone reception is apt to be poor. Narcissists are easily irritated; therefore, he is likely to become frustrated with the static and call someone else.
It may also help you to cope if you realize that in some organizations, and in some circumstances, narcissism can actually be beneficial. Narcissists are often highly motivated and dedicated to success, and despite their primary goal of self- glorification, they may still make valuable contributions to the organization. The down side is that this kind of boss is likely to be exploitative and unlikely to care about his or her people.
However, it may still make sense to work for a narcissistic boss in order to launch or accelerate your career (think Meryl Streep’s character in ‘Devil Wears Prada’). Even though you won’t get any empathy or support from a narcissistic boss, the benefits of what you learn from working for him may outweigh the emotional costs.
Lastly, you can create a safe yet positive workplace for yourself regardless of what type of boss you may have. Your boss is not the only person who you’re working with- you can still form friendly relationships with your co-workers and have a working environment that is conducive to both your personal growth and job output.