How to deal with a narcissist boss with a level head
You’ve just been the target of one of your boss’s self-absorbed, self-centered and I’m-always-right tirades again. It feels as though all the blood has drained from your body, you’re shaking, and you feel sick. “How to deal with a narcissist boss?” you wonder in silence.
If this is the effect your boss has on you, you have to change your mindset and attitude towards them fast, or you’ll get burnout in no time. And while you’re suffering, your boss won’t care at all; they might even label you as weak.
Narcissism is an overused label today for anyone who seems to have an overinflated ego. It’s an accusation particularly popular on social media platforms. Having said that, don’t think narcissists don’t exist in the workplace. Because true narcissists are power and status-hungry, they seek admiration, to be the center of attention and are overconfident. Traits like this can easily be misconstrued as competitive, tough, and signs of a leader, so they’re often promoted to top positions.
People with narcissistic personality disorder make up about 6% of the US population. Although it’s a very conservative estimate if each of them was to narcissistically abuse only five people during their lifetime that amounts to 97.8 million people. Extrapolated on a global scale, the damage caused to innocent people by narcissism comes in at around 3.4 billion.
What is narcissism?
Narcissistic personality disorder leaves people developmentally impaired. Their view on life is either black or white with nothing in-between. In their mind, they are center-stage, leaving them with an attitude of grandiosity, superiority and entitlement. Narcissists lack empathy, emotional regulation, interpersonal intelligence and self-esteem.
To compensate for low self-esteem, they define themselves by the belief that they are more superior, deserving and entitled than anyone else. That attitude extends to parents, siblings, friends, family, partners, children – and you, their subordinate in the workplace!
As with all mental health issues, narcissism has many contributing factors that manifest in varying facets in the person’s personality. Remember that you’re not a clinician, so diagnosis isn’t part of your portfolio. What is, though, is taking care of your own mental health and wellbeing because dealing with a narcissist boss can be very damaging.
- Center of attention: they don’t only want to be the center of attention; they make themselves the center of attention. Creating chaos, hurling untruths, goading people and firing off random insults are their way of getting all focus on them, irrespective of the harm caused to anyone else. Also, taking public acclaim for the achievements of others to gain admiration is the way they go.
- Need to be right: always! Even when presented with facts to the contrary, a narcissist will ignore them as if they don’t exist and continue to insist that their version is correct. Delusion protects them from intimidation or fear.
- Inability to handle confrontation: despite often coming across as very charming and claiming anyone can approach them to discuss issues, they won’t tolerate being questioned. Whilst they readily reprimand, rebuke and humiliate employees, even the slightest hint of challenge will be met with an avalanche of abuse and threats.
- Inconsistency: their leadership is inconsistent, and “instructions” can change without prior notice. It’s much more than just changing course – its actual disparity in what was agreed before and then blaming staff for not listening. A narcissist will lie outright and deny they said something even if you have proof to the contrary.
- Swinging from one extreme to another: one moment they could be friendly and smiling at you and the next it feels as though your head’s going to be bitten off. Also, there’s often no consideration for how they treat people in public; so the whole office could witness the dressing down (often without valid reason). A short while later they walk in again and treat you as if nothing ever happened, leaving you feeling totally confused.
- Creating divisiveness: pitting team members against each other, favorable and unfavorable comparisons, and purposely creating mistrust and resentment is how a narcissist leads. They don’t know (or care about) how to lead a team.
- No concern for the bigger picture: a narcissist boss only cares about their power and ego. There is no regard for individuals, their team and even the wellbeing of the organization.
Consider why you’re in the job you’re in
Before you try to figure out how to deal with a narcissist boss, ask yourself whether it’s worthwhile staying where you are. Why do you want to keep this job and not instead look for another one?
Unless you’re in a field that has few employment opportunities or working for the organization is pertinent to reaching your careers goals, there’s little motivation to put up with abuse. Know that a narcissist boss will never change, you will always feel insecure around them, and your success will hinge on them. Particularly if your boss is high up in the leadership of the company, they can make or break your success.
Possibly you need to get a few years of experience to move on to your next goal, or you know your boss is due to retire or get promoted to somewhere else within the near future. Maybe your job is to serve your community, and this is the only place you can do that.
But if you’ve got skills and experience that can easily get you a job elsewhere – start looking for other opportunities so you can move on as soon as possible! Don’t waste your time trying to work with someone who cares about no one but themselves.
Keep your decision to move on to yourself if you’re opting out. You don’t know who you can really trust in the unhealthily competitive environment created by a narcissist boss. When it comes to their ears that you’re unhappy, they’re likely to fire you there and then. Because they thrive on admiration, it won’t go down well if they know you think they’re less than perfect.
How to deal with a narcissist boss
Deciding that you want to keep your job and are prepared to work your way around the toxicity of narcissism takes courage, preparation and determination. Put your pride and dignity in your pocket, as well.
Survive the mayhem, frustration and negative emotions by putting all your energy into your job and achieving what you set out to do. Make your job your passion and focus and work on improving your emotional intelligence to cope.
6 coping strategies to adopt:
1) Accept the situation
Acceptance will help you let go of resistance and make it easier for you not to take things personally when figuring our how to deal with a narcissist boss. You’ll never change your boss, and attempts to reason, argue or prove you’re right are a waste of time.
2) You don’t really matter
If you’re an achiever and can bring positive attention or accolades to your boss, you’re in. As soon as positive attention gets replaced with something else, you fade into the background. You need to be at peace with their taking credit for your achievements; remember you can always list them on your CV when you’re job hunting again.
3) Give public recognition
When your boss is laying on self-praise, go along with it. As long as it’s not damaging your professional reputation, it cannot harm. There’s no place for pride or principle when learning how to deal with a narcissist boss, if you want to stay on their good side.
4) Never disregard the rules (or the law)
There’s little that beyond a narcissist’s ability to gain popularity or admiration and many are known to break company rules and even the law. Keep clear of it because if they get found out, you’ll get the blame and your career could get ruined. A narcissist boss will never back you up at the expense of their reputation.
5) Lay low wherever possible
If you can avoid them, do it! As long as you keep doing what you’re supposed to, don’t make waves and don’t draw their attention, you’ll be okay. A narcissist wants their organization or department to look good, so keeping the wheels turning while maintaining a low profile works in your favor.
6) Remain focused on what matters to you
You’ve decided to keep your job because you have a mission to complete. That is where all your energy must go. Stick to your passion for achieving your end goal. Whenever possible, just go with the flow, neither agreeing or disagreeing. Smile and applaud when necessary and then get back to what matters most to you.
In the end…
It’s your decision whether you’re going to put yourself through the oppressive, inconsistent and demanding leadership style of a narcissist boss. When it helps you achieve your career goals or live out your passion, it might be worthwhile to learn how to deal with a narcissist boss.
Do, however, expect to suffer some residual damage and ensure that you get rid of all emotional baggage you will be carrying once your working relationship is over. Subconscious defense and coping mechanisms set in very quickly when we’re subjected to daily abuse.
Although we might not realize it, we change our behavior to adapt to stress and insecurities. Instead of acting out our natural motivations, we emphasize those we need to ensure our survival.