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Narcissists in the Workplace: How to Deal With Them Without Losing Your Mind (and Your Job)

by | Feb 1, 2022 | Features, Life, Uncategorized

Key Takeaways

  • Narcissistic behavior can have a negative impact on employee morale, company culture and revenue.
  • Employees must develop the tools to effectively work with people who exhibit narcissistic traits.
  • Common traits of a workplace narcissist include a lack of empathy, a grandiose sense of self and an excessive need for admiration.

Narcissists in the workplace are like bulls in a china shop. They can destroy everything (and everyone) that get in their way.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to deal with narcissists at work. Every person in your office would be professional, respectful and collaborative. 

Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect. At times, we have to work closely with people who have inflated egos and don’t play by any rules but their own. 

“When we talk about narcissistic workplace issues, we often talk about communication, self-protection and workplace gaslighting,” said Dr. Ramani Durvasula, Clinical Psychologist and Workplace Consultant.

“One thing we often miss is the danger of setting off a narcissistic boss and the associated fear and egg-shell walking and the damage that does in the workplace.”

Quitting your job due to conflicts with workplace narcissists may not be possible right now. That’s why it’s important to develop strategies to effectively deal with these types of people.

How to Identify a Workplace Narcissist

One of the first things you’ll notice about workplace narcissists is they LOVE attention. In fact, they can’t get enough of it. Oftentimes, it comes at the expense of their colleagues and subordinates. 

“Narcissists are deeply insecure and because of that it’s like they don’t have a fully formed sense of self,” said Dr. Ramani in her Narcissists Desire for Admiration YouTube video. “So, they count on the world to provide it.”

Narcissists will interrupt you so they can dominate the conversation. After all, nothing is more important to them than sharing their opinions and knowledge. Once they finish talking, they will find an excuse to end the discussion.

It’s important to know how to identify these potentially toxic individuals. Be mindful that the goal isn’t to diagnose a condition or change their behavior. The aim is to spot these behaviors so you’ll know how to respond when you encounter them.

Common signs of a workplace narcissist include:

  • Frequently argumentative and/or confrontational
  • Unwilling to be questioned or challenged
  • Will take credit for work they didn’t do
  • Unethical or immoral behavior
  • Grandiose sense of self
  • Makes colleagues unhappy
  • Lack of empathy
  • Seeks abusive power over others
  • Inability to process criticism 
  • Competitive
  • Excessive need for admiration

Understanding the Impact of Workplace Narcissists

Employees with narcissistic personalities can negatively impact an organization’s future. This is especially true if they hold managerial, top secret or executive positions. 

“People in narcissistic workplaces aren’t typically making their best decisions. They are sometimes just trying to avoid abuse,” said Dr. Ramani in The Anxiety Narcissists Cause in the Workplace is Dangerous video. “In high risk professions, one error could result in direct psychological and physical harm to people.”

Here are just a few ways that narcissists wreak havoc on the workplace.

Low employee morale. People who work in environments that enable narcissistic employees often feel helpless and drained. They are always on edge because they don’t want to anger their narcissistic colleagues or bosses. It creates a toxic work environment that lowers morale and shifts company culture.

Unethical behavior. Narcissistic leaders don’t mind ‘breaking the rules’ or law if it means getting what they want. They’ll engage in unethical behavior for a promotion, recognition, a bonus or anything that elevates their profile. Furthermore, they will encourage their subordinates to emulate their behavior.

Company lawsuits. Many office narcissists have strong personalities and are used to getting their way by any means necessary. If they have to sue the company to get their way, so be it. Typically, narcissistic CEOs make high risk decisions and ignore expert advice. At times, these bad decisions can cause the company to get sued.

Employee resignations. Emotional, physical and verbal abuse in the workplace is never acceptable. Unfortunately, many HR departments don’t have systems in place to check these rogue employees. As a result, some employees leave the company altogether.

Tips for Interacting With Workplace Narcissists

Now that you have a better understanding of how narcissists impact the workplace, you can make your encounters with them as productive as possible. Whether you work for a law firm or a corporation, it’s likely that a narcissist will cross your path. Here’s how to deal with them without losing your mind (or job).

Document the behavior and instances of abuse. Inappropriate behavior may include name-calling, withholding important company data that’s essential for you to do your job, angry outbursts and manipulation. Be sure to record the date, time, place and names of any people who witnessed the abuse. If you report an issue to HR, you’ll have data to back up your claim.

Don’t take it personally. Although it may feel like it, narcissistic behavior isn’t about you. This negative behavior is about the other person. When you depersonalize the situation, you won’t be tempted to engage in petty arguments with the narcissist.

Set firm boundaries. Narcissists have no problem with crossing the line repeatedly. But you don’t have to tolerate the disrespect. If you work closely with a narcissist, set firm boundaries and consequences for overstepping them.

Limit your in-person interactions. Spend as little time with narcissistic colleagues as possible. When you do interact with them, focus on completing the task at hand and moving on. Connect with them using phone calls, video chats, text messages and email whenever appropriate. 

Be direct and precise. Avoid asking open-ended questions that can lead to debates. Create a scope of each of your projects. Establish performance metrics, SLAs and KPIs. That way, everyone will know the expectations. Clearly defined metrics leave little room for challenges by a narcissistic colleague.

Toxic workplaces aren’t safe environments. Not only do they cause anxiety, but they can also stunt your career growth. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is take steps to leave a hostile environment. The good news is you can implement these strategies until you find your next best thing.

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