How to Deal With a Narcissist at Work

How to Deal With a Narcissist at Work
Photo: Getty, iStock by Getty Images

If you’re forced to deal with a narcissist for any prolonged period of time — whether you have the misfortune of being romantically involved with one, or you have one in your family — you’re going to need to develop some coping strategies, if only to lessen the emotional wreckage these toxic people inevitably leave in their wake. And things are no different when you merely work with a narcissist.

Even with the pandemic forcing many workplaces into the virtual space, it can be difficult to escape the manipulative and oft-destructive behaviours of a narcissist in the workplace. Now that more of us are beginning to migrate back into physical offices, it’s more vital than ever to remind ourselves how to deal with someone who exhibits these tendencies — especially if we’re going to be around them for 40 hours a week or more.

What are the different types of narcissism?

Narcissism is a spectrum that functions according to various degrees of severity. A general primer on the ranges can be helpful for you when dealing with a suspected narcissist at the office. Broadly speaking, there are three types who exhibit the hallmark traits below:

Grandiose narcissists: These larger than life personalities must always be in the limelight. They are people who crave adoration, often at the expense of others — people who like to gloat, and who often rise to the top. (Maybe this person is your boss.)

Vulnerable narcissists: This term describes a supremely sensitive person who often likes to cultivate a sense of self-worth through association with something they deem successful or great, like an expensive clothing brand, for example. Still, this person is easily wounded, is sometimes perceived as shy, and craves affirmation, despite often thinking they’re better than those around them.

Malignant narcissists: This is by far the most destructive form of the condition. As Lifehacker pointed out earlier this year, malignant narcissism is usually a combination of various conditions, including Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), sadism, and paranoia. These people are more interested in directly hurting people than other narcissists.

Understanding the behaviour you’re dealing with can help you avoid being dragged into the myriad problems a narcissist will seek to create.

What to do if you work with a narcissist

Narcissism can manifest differently in the workplace than it does in the home or within a friendship or other close relationship. For example, a grandiose narcissist might be prone to claiming credit for their colleagues’ work. If you find yourself in close working proximity to this kind of person, it might be difficult for you to claim ownership of your successes.

In an article in Fast Company in 2019, psychologist Art Markman had this to say about grandiose narcissists in the workplace:

If you find yourself working with a grandiose narcissist, you do need to recognise that you will have some difficulty getting credit for your contributions, because narcissists tend to co-opt the credit for things happening within their sphere of influence.

While it can be maddening to lose out on praise or even professional accolades to someone who falsely claims credit for your work, it’s advisable to put down some boundaries. Lisa Romano, a certified life coach who specialises in codependency and narcissistic abuse, tells Lifehacker that any attempts to confront a narcissist will ultimately prove futile.

“When dealing with narcissists in the workplace, it is important to acknowledge that confronting them won’t work,” she says. “Trying to prove them wrong won’t work, and trying to hold them accountable won’t work. My advice is to focus on [your] goal and imagine you are dealing with someone from outer space that does not follow ethical norms.”

So what can you actually do in a practical sense? Romano advises, “[documenting] your work and [getting] others to sign off on it while bypassing the narcissistic coworker.” Doing this, in addition to complaining as little as possible about the situation, is probably your best recourse, she advises. And that documentation is important — if it ever becomes necessary, you want to be able to accurately present your own work (along with timelines and facts) to the powers that be, she says.

If you find yourself unfairly robbed of credit, it might be a better option to present the issue to your manager rather than hash it out directly with someone who’ll never see your perspective. If the narcissist happens to be your manager, however, it depends on the kinds of behaviours they exude, Markman writes. Vulnerable narcissists will “take the credit for everyone else’s successes, but they will also spread the blame for failures out among others without taking any share of it for themselves,” he notes.

Unfortunately, if you’re working under one of these types of people, the best recourse is to follow the advice above while doing your best to get transferred out of their department — or maybe find another job entirely, as the possibilities of bridging the divide are ultimately hopeless.

A possible benefit?

While most narcissists are no fun to deal with in the long term, it’s possible having a grandiose narcissist for a boss might actually give your career a boost. People with this personality type are usually quite magnetic and often ascend to the top of their fields, into managerial and even more powerful positions. Markman notes that if you position yourself correctly (and provided your relationship is positive), “you may get pulled into that person’s inner circle and have a chance to rise upward in the organisation with them.”

In the event that you’re not willing to enter a narcissist’s sphere of influence, it’s also a good course of action to do the exact opposite, and stay as far removed as possible. “I have learned that drawing my attention, focus, and energy away from coworkers like this helps me to maintain a sense of peace,” Romano says.

And when it comes to your work environment, isn’t a sense of peace just about the best thing you can hope for?

 

Log in to comment on this story!