The smarter you become about your narcissistic boss, the less power your boss will have.
By Lolly Daskal
Practically everyone has either worked for a narcissistic boss or been exposed to one in some capacity. It’s an unforgettable experience to be around someone who’s flagrantly self-absorbed, self-admiring, self-centered and self-obsessed–someone who works hard only when, and as long as someone’s watching, who’s quick to claim credit and to assign blame.
A narcissistic boss spends an enormous amount of time thinking about achieving power, influence and success. As a result, there’s a tendency to lie and exaggerate the truth to feel self-important.
But the biggest problem with having a narcissistic boss is that they never feel they’re the problem. They may have go-to scapegoats, or they may pick employees seemingly at random to be tagged with the blame when something goes wrong.
If you’re dealing with a narcissistic boss, you basically have two choices: you either quit and get another job or you stay and deal. And if you stay, the only way to deal is not to try to change your boss but instead to change yourself and the way you respond.
Here are ten power moves that will help you deal and keep you from feeding the narcissistic behavior:
1. Understand the source. To cope with your narcissistic boss, you have to understand them. The odds are very high that they’re never going to change, and they’re never going to be easy to work with. The description that’s been going around under names like “The Narcissist’s Prayer” sums it up well:
That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
And if it is, that’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did…
You deserved it.
2. Respond, don’t react. The worst thing you can do with a narcissist is to shine a spotlight on their bad behavior–they thrive on attention. Instead, learn to respond in affective way that keeps you in control of options and choices. If you feel yourself reacting, step away and regain back your control.
3. Set clear boundaries. Set a firm boundary wherever you need one and stick to it. Remember, boundaries aren’t meant to control others; they’re a guideline for you to know what is and isn’t acceptable. Boundaries are a part of self-care–they’re healthy, normal and often necessary.
4. Don’t allow them to get under your skin. Narcissists thrive on getting a rise out of someone–especially someone they feel they have power over. They will goad you, shame you, call you out, embarrass you and humiliate you, but you don’t have to allow any of it to get under your skin. Use emotional intelligence to manage your thoughts and actions. And remember that any cruel behavior and words reflect badly on the narcissist, not you.
5. Don’t feed the beast. A narcissistic boss has a constant need to be admired by others. So refuse to feed the beast. It’s good to understand that bad behavior comes from insecurity and that the more your narcissistic boss acts out, the more insecure they are. But it’s just as important to remember that the more you feed the bad behavior the worse it will become. Narcissists surround themselves with only two types of people: those who enable them and those who bite their tongue. Anyone who doesn’t fit into one of these two categories will certainly be fired or banished–and, if the narcissist has their way, manipulated into thinking it was actually their own fault.
6. Don’t empower those who don’t deserve it. Your narcissistic boss holds some degree of power by virtue of their position, but we know there are no leaders without followers. Refuse to follow those you don’t admire, those you don’t trust, and those who lie. Just do your job to the best of your ability and with respect, honor and integrity. When you do, you’ll be known as one of the sane ones–maybe even the only sane one.
7. Fact check everything. A narcissist will always portray themselves as a victim who’s innocent in all aspects. When the truth offends them–which is often–they’re quick to exchange it for lies and half truths. If you’re dealing with a narcissistic boss, be ready to do a lot of checking up.
8. Don’t argue. The last thing you want to do is argue with a narcissist, because everything you say and do will be held against you. Don’t argue or engage but instead make them invisible–the last thing a narcissist wants. It’s impossible to argue with someone who’s willing to distort the truth to suit their own agenda–the best you can do is to take away their power by making them unimportant and invisible.
9. Don’t be provoked. Narcissists thrive on provoking people and then blaming them for the fight. Stay cool and disengaged and refuse to be swept up by the wave of dysfunction. The alternative is realizing they’ve found a way to make it all your fault. Don’t allow yourself to be provoked or manipulated.
10. Stay focused on what’s important. Working with a narcissist boss means a constant pull to play by their rules and for everything to revolve around them, with no accountability or responsibility when things go wrong. It’s easy to feel angry and frustrated. That’s when you have to take a step back and reconnect with your purpose in being there.
It’s never going to be easy working with a narcissist. Often the wisest thing to do is just walk away–but when that’s not possible, remember you’re at least gaining valuable experience in dealing with one of the most difficult personalities you’re ever likely to encounter.