How to Deal With a Narcissistic Coworker?

Working with a narcissist isn’t easy. A narcissistic coworker is prone to manipulation, rage, passive aggression, and other immature behavior.

They’re self-absorbed and don’t necessarily care about what other people need.

Unfortunately, you can’t always take a no-contact approach when you work with a narcissist.

However, you can take some essential steps to protect yourself and your well-being.

In this article, I provide an engaging guide on how to spot a self-centered coworker and navigate challenging interactions with them.

In this article, I will list typical behaviors they might display and arm you with valuable strategies to manage these situations while maintaining professionalism. It will help you understand their behavior, ensuring you’re well-equipped to protect your mental health in the workplace.

13 Signs of a Narcissistic Coworker

13 Signs of a Narcissistic Coworker

People with narcissistic personality disorder work in all types of industries, but they often have public-facing roles.

Jobs that provide a sense of power or control (i.e. teachers, doctors, law enforcement officials, investment bankers, lawyers) often attract narcissists.

In these roles, their selfish, narcissistic behavior is often reinforced, which can even advance their career opportunities.

Here are some common traits of narcissistic coworkers:

#1 They Never Acknowledge Their Mistakes

One of the classic signs of narcissism is the inability ever to take personal accountability.

Narcissists rarely recognize that they make mistakes because, in their minds, they are never wrong.

And even if they know they messed up, they’ll often downplay or lie about what happened. Many times, they will also assign the blame to someone else.

#2 They Are Highly Sensitive to Feedback

Have you ever tried to give your narcissistic coworker feedback? If so, there’s a good chance they did not receive it well.

A narcissist will always respond negatively to feedback, whether through arguing with you, pretending to hear you (but secretly seething), or trying to prove why you’re wrong desperately.

This is because, despite how they present themselves to the outside world, narcissists have incredibly fragile and low self-esteem. Their mental health depends on how validated they feel by others.

#3 They Seem to Lack Empathy for Others

Narcissistic Coworker

Narcissists often act aloof, uncomfortable, or disgusted when others show emotions.

That’s because they have little to no empathy when someone else struggles. They also dislike the center of attention being on another person.

Unfortunately, this empathy problem also explains why narcissists can succeed so well at work.

They can be ruthless with their approach and seemingly have no problem throwing others under the bus to get what they want. They will stab their “friends” in the back if it means it could benefit them.

#4 They Act “Fake” in Front of Clients or Other Coworkers

Narcissists also succeed in the workplace because they know how and when to turn on the charm.

For example, they may be extremely friendly to some employees while being cruel to others.

Narcissists can be many things, but they generally aren’t dumb. They pay close attention to others and know how and when to change their behavior to mold to a certain expectation.

#5 They Get Angry When Others Disregard the Rules (But Also Think They’re Above the Rules)

Narcissists have a know-it-all attitude, and they believe they deserve special treatment.

With that, they often assume the main rules don’t apply to them. However, they have no problem reinforcing limits and expectations onto others.

For example, narcissists might react strongly if they discovered someone stealing from the company.

But they might justify taking company supplies or caring for personal business during work hours. This is a form of cognitive dissonance, and narcissists are full of dissonance.

#6 They’re Always Critical or Pessimistic

The narcissistic coworker seems never to stop complaining. At work, they’re sometimes cynical and whiny.

There’s always some problem, and there’s a good chance they want sympathy from others about their struggle.

#7 Their Sarcasm Is Mean

A narcissistic coworker will often “jokingly” put down others. But they rarely acknowledge it.

If someone calls them out on this behavior, they tend to react defensively or with a gaslighting response like, “I was just kidding. You really need to lighten up. You’re always taking everything so seriously!”

#8 They Take Credit for All Successes

Narcissistic Coworker (2)

The workplace narcissist believes they single-handedly make the company successful.

When good things happen, they love taking credit for them. This applies even if they had little or nothing to do with the project!

#9 They Interrupt Constantly

Have you ever noticed that your narcissistic colleague never waits for someone to finish a sentence?

That’s because they’re always preoccupied with their own feelings and self-importance.

When they have a thought, they also have the immediate impulse to share it- even when it means stepping on someone else’s toes.

#10 They Always Make Conversations About Them

No matter the topic, a narcissist will always turn the discussion to them.

If you’re talking about a frustrating interaction with a client, they’ll quickly one-up you to talk about a terrible conversation they had with another client earlier that day.

Or, if you thank another coworker for bringing in cookies, they’ll come in to talk about all the details of their strict diet.

#11 They Act Like They’re Above Certain People or Tasks

Narcissists don’t like doing anything that they think is beneath them. This is why some of them struggle actually to hold jobs.

Because they tend to be so entitled, they often look down on tasks that seem “unproductive” or “boring.”

And if they stick it out in one job, they always make a big deal about how annoyed they are to complete certain assignments.

#12 They Only Talk to You When They Need Help or Want Something

Some narcissists are relatively disconnected at work. They may be more shy or introverted (especially if they are more of an inverted narcissist).

But when they reach out to build relationships with others, it’s only because they need something. It’s never to talk for the sake of talking.

#13 They Gossip to Get Close to Others

Start paying attention to how your narcissistic colleague interacts with other coworkers.

You’ll notice that they gossip freely and without concern for the consequences. They love any chance to turn people against one another, and they often get a rise out of creating workplace drama.

How to Deal with a Narcissistic Coworker?

How to Deal with a Narcissistic Coworker

If you suspect one of your coworkers is a narcissist, protecting your integrity and emotional well-being is vital.

Narcissistic energy can be draining- you may feel increasingly frustrated and irritated by their behavior. 

Here are the best tips for how to deal with a narcissist at work: 

Educate Yourself on Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse refers to patterns of hostility, gaslighting, and other inappropriate behavior.

While the mood swings may seem erratic, there’s a good chance you’ll start to spot common patterns over time.

All narcissists have their anger triggers- being aware of them can help you feel prepared for what to expect.

Don’t Take Their Behaviors Personally

Even though your coworker’s behavior is frustrating, taking any of their narcissistic traits personally will only make you feel worse.

Personality disorders are complex and rooted in long-time childhood patterns- how this person acts isn’t about you. It’s about how they’re used to dealing with the world.

Set Clear Boundaries

You don’t have to tolerate abuse from your coworker. Establishing clear expectations about what is and isn’t tolerable in your professional relationship is important.

You may need to reinforce these boundaries often. A boundary can be as simple as saying, “I won’t tolerate hearing about gossip,” or, “I’m having lunch by myself today, thank you.”

Talk to Your Boss or HR

You may need to escalate the conversation if your coworker refuses to respect your healthy boundaries- or if they keep acting unethically or problematically.

When you do this, it’s essential to remain calm and collected. Stick to the facts about what’s happening without directly insulting your coworker.

Unfortunately, management isn’t always adequately prepared to handle narcissism in the workplace.

Sometimes the narcissist is smart enough to turn on their charm for leadership. And sometimes, it’s your own manager who’s the narcissistic one.

Don’t Gossip About Them

Even if it’s tempting, avoid talking poorly about your narcissistic coworker. Gossip has a way of backfiring in professional settings, and you may never really know which coworkers are on the narcissist’s side.

Don’t even engage a narcissist who wants to gossip with you. If they start talking about someone else, quickly acknowledge and then deflect with a statement like, “Mhm. That’s interesting you think that way. I have to get back to work now.”

Limit Your Conversations

One of the best ways to deal with a narcissist is by making yourself as boring as possible. 

Narcissists gain control when they learn about someone’s weaknesses or secrets. Never acknowledge having any difficulties with your work. You never know when they can turn that information against you.

Avoid Sharing Personal Information About Yourself

As much as possible, focus on staying professional in the workplace. Remember that narcissists tend to be master manipulators, and it isn’t uncommon for them to try to love-bomb other employees to gain a sense of closeness.

The narcissist will want access to your personal life- they can later use that to smear or degrade you if needed.

Document Problematic Behaviors

If things start escalating with your coworker, start writing down what’s happening.

Include as much objective information as possible, including the time, date, behavior, and any witnesses.

Don’t include subjective details, like how it made you feel. Focus on the facts and save the information in case you need to make a case for it later.

Accept That Narcissistic Individuals Don’t (Generally) Change

Narcissistic people can seek treatment and get better if they learn how to deal with their emotions productively. But their self-image and inflated sense of entitlement often make it hard even to recognize that they have a problem at all.

With that, it’s important to remember that change may not be possible. Your narcissistic coworker is who they are.

If things worsen and nobody does something about it, it may be worth evaluating whether you need to switch roles or transfer to a new job. Your mental health is more important than any career.

How Do You Outsmart a Narcissist at Work?

The most important thing you can do when dealing with narcissistic people is to avoid playing their mind games. Don’t even draw attention to what they’re doing- disengage altogether.

Paradoxically, don’t aim to “outsmart” a narcissist. Most narcissists love getting attention, even when it’s negative, and if they sense you’re trying to pull a fast one on them, they will double down on their efforts.

This becomes exhausting for you and can spiral into even more problems.

How Do You Disarm a Narcissistic Coworker?

Don’t let them see their behavior bother or even faze you. Remain level-headed as much as possible.

Narcissists feel disarmed when they realize they can’t get under someone’s skin.

At the same time, please don’t give into their charm, either.The goal is to remain as neutral as often as you can.

How Do You Deal With a Narcissistic Employee at Work?

Aim to stay focused on work and as disinterested in the narcissist’s behavior as possible. Limit your interactions.

When you do talk, be professional and focus on the work itself. Take your emotions out of conversations as much as you can.

If you need to alert management about what’s happening, stick to the facts.

How Do Narcissists Treat Their Coworkers?

How Do Narcissists Treat Their Coworkers

It depends. Narcissists are constantly scanning for potential threats. At the same time, they’re also scanning to determine who can benefit their ego or act as a source of narcissistic supply.

Therefore, their behavior changes based on what they think someone can offer them.

Narcissists will work hard to win over managers if they’re not in leadership roles.

They’re generally vying for those types of jobs. They will also try to put down people who seem weaker or less capable than them.

But there are no hard rules, and it’s common for narcissists to switch tactics to keep people on their toes. 

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