The Narcissist in the Workplace: Tips for Working with a Narcissist

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Sometime in your career, you will run into a boss or co-worker who is so difficult, you will feel hopeless about ever finding a way to work with that person. That individual may well have a narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic personality is characterized by an unrealistic or inflated sense of self-importance, an inability to see the viewpoint of others, and hypersensitivity to criticism. Narcissists are preoccupied with grandiose fantasies and unrealistic plans. They tend to be bullies and often resort to verbal and emotional abuse. They exploit people and then thrust them aside. Narcissists will have no empathy and will regard their co-workers as mere instrument, objects, or tools. However, they will also need their co-workers or underlings to be their sources of adulation, affirmation, as well as someone who can be used for potential benefits (such as taking credit for your work and so on). If you work with or under a narcissist, your work life might be described as a living hell.

Workplace narcissists seethe with anger and resentment underneath their public facade. They are also extremely envious; they will destroy what they perceive to be the sources of their constant frustration such as a popular co-worker, a successful boss, or a skilled employee. Narcissists crave constant attention and will go to great lengths to secure it – including by engineering situations that place them at the center. They are immature, constantly complain, and criticize everyone and everything. They are intrusive and invasive in the workplace. They firmly believe in their own power and superior insight. They feel entitled to special treatment and are convinced that they are above the laws, including the rules of their place of employment. Narcissists can be very disruptive and are poor team members; they seldom collaborate with others without being quarrelsome. They are control freaks and feel the compulsive urge to interfere and micromanage everything as well as overrule others.

Unfortunately, Western society and culture are narcissistic. Narcissistic behaviors have long been the norm. The fundamentally narcissistic traits of individualism, competitiveness, and unbridled ambition are the foundation of certain versions of capitalism. Thus, certain forms of abuse and bullying actually are tolerated as a basic part of the myth of today’s corporations. Narcissistic bosses have been idolized.

In many companies, managers and executives probably demonstrate more narcissistic tendencies than others do, but in varying degrees. For instance, the early Steve Jobs and Oracle’s Larry Ellison were the epitome of corporate narcissism. But Bill Gates and Warren Buffet exhibit hardly any traits at all.

Charcteristics

  • Arrogant and self-centered, they expect special treatment and privileges.
  • They can be charismatic, articulate and funny-especially in the beginning or if they want something from you.
  • They are likely to disrespect boundaries and the privacy of others.
  • They can be patronizing and critical of others but unwilling or unable to accept criticism or disagreement themselves.
  • Likely to be anxiety-stricken or paranoid, they may exhibit violent, rage-like reactions when they can’t control a situation or their behaviors have been exposed.
  • They are apt to set others up for failure or pit co-workers against one another.
  • They can be cruel and abusive to some co-workers, often targeting one person at a time until he quits.
  • They may need an ongoing “narcissist supply” of people who they can easily manipulate and who will do whatever they suggest — including targeting a co-worker — without question.
  • They are often charming and act innocent in front of managers.

Who can Work with a Narcissist?

Certain personalities mesh well with narcissistic people in the workplace. For instance, someone with a Dependent Personality Disorder, or a submissive person whose expectations are low and are willing to absorb abuse would survive with a narcissist, possibly even thrive in such an environment. But the majority of people in the workforce are likely to suffer ill-health effects, have conflicts with the narcissist, or end up being fired, reassigned or demoted. The narcissistic bully frequently gets his way: he gets promoted, the ideas he stole from someone else become corporate policy, and his misconduct is tolerated. This is due, in part, because narcissists are excellent liars with considerable acting skills – upper management believes them, at least initially, and believes that their abilities are too valuable to lose.

Deciding whether or not to continue to work with someone who is a narcissist also depends on whether the narcissistic bully represents the culture of the workplace or if he is an isolated case. Regrettably, often abusive behaviors in a person’s office or shop floor are merely a microcosm of pervasive bad behavior which permeates the entire corporate hierarchy, from top management to the bottom rung of employment. Bullies seldom dare to express their behavior in defiance of the prevailing culture because if they did go against the grain of their place of employment, they would lose their jobs. Typically, narcissists join already narcissistic companies and fit right in a toxic workplace, a noxious atmosphere, and an already abusive management. If one is not willing to succumb to these customs and lack of ethics in the workplace, there isn’t a whole lot one can do except resign and find another job.

Working in an environment with a narcissist is a dismal landscape indeed. If you cannot leave the job or get reassigned, there are ways to survive without “kissing up” to the narcissist and always being vigilant about what you say and how you say it:

Tips for Working with a Narcissist

  • Never disagree with the narcissist or contradict him
  • Never offer him any intimacy or personal information
  • Look awed by whatever attribute matters to him (for instance: by his professional achievements or by his good looks, or by his success with women and so on)
  • Never remind him of life ‘out there’ and if you do, connect it somehow to his sense of grandiosity. You can aggrandize even your office supplies, the most mundane thing conceivable by saying: “These are the BEST art materials ANY workplace is going to have”, “We get them EXCLUSIVELY”, etc.;
  • Do not make any comment, which might directly or indirectly impinge on the narcissist’s self-image, power, superior judgment, infinite awareness or insight, skills, capabilities,or professional record. Bad sentences start with: “I think you overlooked … made a mistake here … you don’t know … do you know … you were not here yesterday so … you cannot … you should … (interpreted as rude imposition, narcissists react very badly to perceived restrictions placed on their freedom) … I (never mention the fact that you are a separate, independent entity, narcissists regard others as extensions of their selves)…” You get the idea.

References:

  1. http://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/transcripts/narcissism-in-the-workplace/
  2. http://www.winning-teams.com/narcissism.html
  3. http://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/the-narcissist-in-the-workplace/
  4. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9095798/Narcissists_at_work_How_to_deal_with_arrogant_controlling_manipulative_bullies
  5. http://www.careerthoughtleaders.com/blog/dealing-with-narcissists-in-the-workplace/

About Alexander Burgemeester

20 Responses to “The Narcissist in the Workplace: Tips for Working with a Narcissist”

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  1. Jane Doe says:

    So, you say “there are ways to survive without “kissing up” to the narcissist” and then you give us instructions to do just that – kiss up to him?

    Sorry – seen to many people enable these folks. That is all kissing up to them does – enable them. Never solves anything long term. Leave if they have power, ignore if they don’t. If you can’t ignore them, try to stay invisible to them as much as possible, and treat them like they are invisible.

    • RL says:

      Thank you Jane. I read you loud and clear and I share your thoughts and the thoughts of T.Rene as well. I am stuck with someone just like that > A narcissist < he is also in a position of seniority. unfortunately I can only ignore him so much but must communicate with him in relation to our job service responsibilities within our team. I have been doing exactly the opposite to what is suggested. Stand up to him and demand respect and took it right to the top demanding that Management adhere to and enforce respectful behaviour in the workplace. fortunately I have a good Manager who listens and tries to resolve his hostile behaviour when ever I have an opinion or challenge him where he is lacking empathy for our customers whom we as a team are responsible for. I refuse to join his Gravy Train with damaged wheels. I have my work ethics to fulfil and refuse to stoop down to his level. I am unable to find another job because of times as they are these days in finding a Job as well as my age of 59 years. I will avoid him at all costs, speak or consult with him only when I need to and there is no social interaction I am interested in either. My Manager is addressing this behavioural issue and has arranged for a councillor to educate the whole unit on appropriate communication e.t.c. At least my Manager is willing to address it. He also has to because the second stage is HR investigation being the next step. In the Public sector at least we have this going for us. In the private sector it must be more difficult. I hear your pain. You are not alone….

  2. T Rene says:

    What a disappointing article. It describes a narcissistic coworker to a tee, then suggests that we feed into their B.S. You are helping narcissists abuse others, and encouraging the rest of us to be victims.

    • colleen crowl says:

      Codependency only feeds them until your left a shell and unable to fight back. I’m at that stage with a coworker and now have to face management in regards to her lies. I’m sure I’ll look like the one hurting her.

  3. A says:

    I agree. Why should you bow to an equal because of their narcissistic behaviours. I really would like strategy of how to overcome the narcissists beliefs of interpretation of expectations in the workplace.

  4. Lucy says:

    Oh my gosh, this fits my co-worker to a tee. I am at my wits end and contiplating leaving a job I love just because of this horrible person. She is a bully and a liar. She is so abusive it’s upsetting. Argh! She keeps complaining how she hates this company and yet she is still here!

    • kitten says:

      I know exactly how you feel Lucy. I’m probably on my last legs myself, and I love my job – can’t handle working with this woman and her offsider who is just as bad. Talk about control freak!!! I don’t know what to do. Management love her and she’s such a liar, and if she doesn’t like you or you show her up in her work by doing a better job than her you may as well go jump off the harbour bridge. She’s awful. If you learn any good tips on how to manage people like her, apart from sucking up (not a good thing) let me know. Otherwise just know there are other workers out there who work with the type of person.

  5. cindy says:

    The rest of the world, who does have empathy, respect, love for others, should not have to bow down to a narcissist. The narcissist needs an attitude adjustment. If it was only possible to give them a good ass-kicking without going to jail because that would cure a lot of their crap!

  6. will says:

    I have a fellow manager who is like this. The best thing to do is to confront them head on and win your battles. Fist time this person ever exhibited behavior to me like this I pulled him aside (As his subordinate) and set the expectation that it was unacceptable. We have butted heads occasionally, but now have a mutual respect. He is terrible to other workers though. My other piece of advice is make friends with his boss. Do extra favors, bring things to there attention that are important. Show the boss that anything they here from this person is incorrect. Often the Boss secretly does not like the person as much as you would think. Never Never, be submissive, you will permanently open the door to abuse. Stand your ground. Set the expectations.

    • Pat says:

      I stood my ground with my coworker. It worked. There is a mutual respect between us now even though I know I mean nothing to her except for what I can do for her to feed her narcissist needs, but I have drawn boundaries, let limits, do not jump through her hoops, and she respects that. Hopefully, she will not bother me too much if I don’t feed into the need.

    • sophia says:

      Great advice! These people do what they do because of people who are submissive ( or secretly wish they’ll be so bold like these sickos). Stand your ground. Set the expectations! YES!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Stella says:

    I have worked with one for over 15 years. If you bow down to them as the article discusses they will suck the life out of you. They literally have no boundaries and see you as an extension of themselves, meaning you are there to serve them. Underneath that all, they are frightened little children. You absolutely need to stand up to them because that causes them to back down. If they smell weakness they will go after you but if they sense power they will cower down. If they are on the same level as you absolutely become close with the higher ups. All of my higher ups have seen through this person and avoid him like the plague. It is not a fair situation. Most of the blogs tell you to run like hell if you have to deal with one but when you work with one you have no choice. Do not tell them anything personal because they gather personal info to have power of you. Keep conversations brief and to the point. If you really want to defeat one, give them no attention. If they call you, talk for a few minutes and then have to go for a meeting, another call etc. Avoid them at all costs.

    • RL says:

      That is exactly my reaction to the narcissist I have in our team. I stand up to him, he hates it, tries to run me down or anyone else who stands up to him. Instead I made complaints about him, had meetings with my Manager on several occasions. He genuinely tries to resolve this issue. Each time I stand up to this psychopath he backs off like a little child and leaves me alone because he can not bear me challenging him again too soon. Of course he always cries out that I am the one disrespecting him. anything to side track the real issue. That is just their style.
      It had a positive impact for some time until the next flare up. There had been several times where he showed aggression towards me and each time I would front him and also make my grievance to my Manager. Thankfully he is as impartial as he can be and does try to resolve it. My last meeting has put this Nut on notice. I made it very clear at the meeting that I will not tolerate his abusive behaviour. They know I mean business and there is no backing off from me. I have rights and that is > I do not come to a workplace to be abused. Result is? Management is pursuing this further on my behalf and are arranging a councillor to educate him as well as the whole Team on appropriate communication in the workplace. Will it fix it? lets wait and see > I have a lot to loose and I be damned if I let this Nut succeed.

  8. Stella says:

    Also, do not leave the job because of this person. That just makes them win. There are many websites and books on how to handle these personalities. I went to see a shrink who gave me a lot of strong tools on handling this person on a day to day basis. Yes it is ridiculous to have to do this because of one person but for me it was necessary. I was not going to leave the job that I have worked at for so many years. I avoid the narcissist at all costs. When I have to meet with him, I am extremely professional and curt. I say nothing personal and semi blow him off. This drives him nuts. He wants power over me so badly but cant have it. Remember these are also the most miserable people you will meet. You have a life they don’t. They have no friends and are horrible at relationships. Good luck!

    • Paul says:

      This is so true. I am literally going mental because of this colleague. He is the most insidious, nasty, negative person I have ever had the misfortune to meet.
      I love my job and this 40 something singleton who lives with his mother and burns through 5-6 relationships a year, really gets on my goat.

  9. Alplily says:

    I work in a great nonprofit where everyone gets along well and we all do our best to support one another and act like a team. Except that a classic narcissist runs one department / division. She fits this description completely. All of the articles I have read on this phenomenon indicate that the rest of us should just stay out of their way and do their bidding–kiss up to them. I’d rather our executive director handle the problem and if necessary fire them. After all, the rest of the team is not doing anything wrong and we are regularly getting beaten up by the narc. It is exhausting, painful, and detrimental to productivity, morale, etc. Why is it so difficult for managers to see what is happening and deal with it? Such behavior in other staffers would generally be immediately disciplined.

  10. mar2343 says:

    Alplily, there is an unwritten code at work that narcs are smarter, stronger, and that is the basis for capitalism in the U.S. that strong = narcissist = productivity but it’s not true. Narcs are detrimental to any office environment, cause low office morale, low productivity, excessive absences, and quittings. I blame the good ole U.S. of A. for this fallacy that bullies will make stronger companies and will be good for the economy by being tough and strong. The same issue is in schools as well. Once we get rid of this thinking, we will be rid of narcs at work and bullies at school.

    • RL says:

      It’s a wworld wide thing. We have the same issues here in Australia. Bullies are a protected species and yet it is dramatized that bullying will not be tolerated. What a laugh!! Though it is not funny at all because I was bullied for years, finaly had enough and took it all the way and made the public service take responsibility for their inactions. of course they opted to work with the Bully to cover their own incompetence in enforcing the NO Bully Policy.

  11. nyceaglescout says:

    In the last 15 years I have dealt with 4 narcissists on separate occasions. They were all self-proclaimed “visionaries.” The first was in grade school, when a kid organized all the bullies in the school- between 60-80 of them- so he could better control them. At the same time, he built a change coalition around his vision with an anti-bullying movement. Thus, the more pain inflicted, the more his movement grew… a disgrace to the No Bully Policy.

    More recently, as an Executive in NYC, I found myself repeatedly at ends with the narcissistic executive on the board. He threatened to fire one of the receptionists, on grounds of insubordination. What he wanted her to do was learn ESP and read his mind. This way she knew what needed to be done and would get it done so that he could focus on company growth.

    Among this executive’s portfolio of absurdities, he hired one particular employee on salary, but then also gave said employee hourly wage and overtime. Thus, the employee could leave at 3pm but still be paid until 5. (I knew the employee well and we got along cordially, yet this infuriated the CFO, and also stressed out the employee, who felt his job security threatened.) However, the executive dismissed any allegations of wrongdoing or worries. “It is what it is,” he said infamously. (The reason for his doing this was that the said employee “fit into his vision of growth”.)

    After finally occluding his vision of expansion into areas of the business that were performing unsatisfactory for the last time- a debacle that lasted 2 years and which the CEO supported my stance- the executive accused me of malicious wrongdoing and twisted several arms to have me terminated. However, my attorney disagreed with that decision by clear show of evidence, and subsequently the company was forced to settle.

    bullyandego.wordpress.com

  12. Emily says:

    I work with someone just like this article describes. Even to the point of them targeting one colleague at a time till they quit – I’m the latest one being targeted. This person, let’s call her Sue, is a control freak, believes her knowledge is greater than even experts in the company, treats others in one of two ways – as tools or enemies, is a bully and somehow uses charm to make the very people she’s destroying worship her at her feet. For example, she’ll pit people against each other but then if she comes back from a few days off, other colleagues gather round her like she’s a rock star and they’re dying for even an ounce of her attention. The efforts she goes to in order to set up intricate situations just to trap me and make me look bad would make her a genius if she wasn’t so evil. She’ll attack me, then give minutes later she will turn around, smile sweetly and say something to me, almost like a freakish gloat. The last colleague she did this to had many more years experience than her but couldn’t handle her constant games. I’m now too trying to leave a job I love because Sue just makes me so depressed and I know she’s trying to discredit me into being fired. At one point I was so depressed I didn’t want to live, was prescribed anti-depressants and have been booked in to see a psychologist. The sad part is management think she’s the best thing they’ve ever had. She isn’t even that good at her job, but she makes up for that in manipulation. She’ll end up being promoted until she’s a boss herself and will make a whole lot more people suffer. She’s turned me from a respected higher up in the company to a laughing stock who is looked down on. I don’t think appeasing these people is right. All it does is let them think they have won and fuel their egos even more. I don’t really know what the answer is.

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