Narcissism has a long-standing love-and-hate relationship with work. On the one hand, narcissistic behaviors can drive people to pursue their ambition to actualize an innovative product—think of Steve Jobs of Apple.
On the other hand, you will be dealing with a demanding boss, a competitive coworker, or an unrelenting business partner who steals your ideas. Individuals with this personality type often need to meet a specialist to receive the appropriate assessment and diagnosis.
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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by a persistent pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. To avoid becoming a victim or frequently gaslighted, check out these tips for dealing with a suspected narcissistic coworker or boss.
Observers notice that many successful leaders, celebrities, and executives show narcissism at varying levels. Whichever field they pursue, they invite mixed reactions because of their association with either success or hubris.
In the workplace, narcissists are highly likely to be promoted, paid more, or both. Unsurprisingly, narcissists are often found in the seat of power. The explanation behind this success lies in two things they constantly do: taking risks and staying firm amidst rejection or failure.
Narcissists are fearless in taking big or small risks. This quality is valuable for companies struggling to face a challenging market. Rejection doesn’t make them doubt themselves. They may criticize those who rejected them or their ideas, but they will not think twice about standing up and trying again.
Despite their glossy qualities and association with the spotlight, narcissistic colleagues and leaders continue to establish a negative rapport in the business community. Research findings show that:
- Narcissism is associated with entrepreneurial intention but isn’t strongly linked with business success (June 2021, Journal of Business Venturing Insights).
- People with narcissistic traits take an active role in political games, such as flattering others (April 2018, Personality and Individual Differences).
- People with narcissistic traits (who have vital roles) in the team can hurt the team’s work performance (February 2020, Academy of Management Journal).
- Narcissism can be toxic for leaders, resulting in short-term and long-term damage to the company (September 2021, Academy of Management Journal).
How Does a Narcissist Behave at Work?
Making a distinction between narcissistic habits and typical work misbehaviors can be tricky. Laurie Cure, the Denver-based author of Leading Without Fear (Tate Publishing, 2012), provides an extensive list of narcissistic behaviors to guide you:
- Demands excessive levels of loyalty and adoration
- Demonstrates extreme competitiveness
- Has a difficult time accepting feedback
- Makes decisions without asking other stakeholders’ opinions or including them in the loop; dislikes being questioned
- Occupied with self-image and thinking of ways to elevate their reputation
- Shows disregard for team member’s needs (e.g., makes you choose between quality time with family or work)
- Shows fantasized talent, expertise, or arrogance
- Spends time with people who have a high status in the organization
- Takes credit for other’s work or ideas
- Uses fear and guilt to manage and gain control
Dealing with a Narcissistic Coworker or Boss
People who can get their narcissistic qualities in check can perform well at work and make significant contributions. But those who fail to self-assess or receive treatment for their NPD symptoms can cause harm to their colleagues.
To avoid becoming a victim of narcissistic abuse, follow the tips below.
Educate yourself about NPD
Reading accurate sources about your coworker or direct supervisor’s narcissistic behaviors would be helpful. As you wade through these sources, remember that you are only educating yourself and not attempting to diagnose them (which only a specialist should do).
According to Psychology Today, people living with NPD demonstrate symptoms involving fantasies of gaining power and the belief that the person is exceptional and is entitled to receive special treatment and admiration. Additionally, they possess an immense sense of self-importance, making them behave arrogantly and believe that they are envied.
Review your employee handbook
Remember that handbook handed to you as a newbie? Now is an excellent time to review that section that deals with reporting another employee who has committed unethical or other misbehaviors due to untreated NPD.
These sections also have a sub-category for anti-bullying rules and other similar policies. Reread these sections, so you know what to do when you complain against a narcissistic boss or coworker. These complaints will likely require documentation so ensure that you have recorded or have access to the proper trail (e.g., conversations over chat or email).
Set a healthy boundary
Boundaries exist not to create a disconnect between you and your coworkers. Rather, you need to set it to discourage any more narcissistic behaviors. It will help if you communicate these boundaries. It is possible through the following steps:
- Identify the behavior that violates a limit (e.g., outbursts during meetings).
- Discuss how this misbehavior makes you feel (e.g., scared or intimidated).
- Describe the behavior that you prefer instead (e.g., talk calmly).
- Identify the consequence if the boundary is violated (e.g., will leave and not listen).
Maintain a strong self-esteem
Besides setting boundaries, consider habits that will strengthen your self-esteem. This step is critical for anyone working with a person who shows NPD symptoms, particularly behaviors that devalue or invalidate your feelings.
Reinforcing one’s self-esteem is different for everyone. For some, this means taking the time to do hobbies. For other people, this means dinner and hanging out with friends.
Seek appropriate support
Being a victim of narcissistic abuse at work can cause trauma. In such a case, approach your human resource (HR) department or any unit that can help you access appropriate support, such as mental health professionals.
Or you can seek help outside of the workplace, including peer support groups. Such groups feature a facilitator that should provide you with steps to open up about your experience, to process the events, and tips to move forward.
If you want to consider taking the legal route, it is best to find lawyers specializing in narcissistic abuse.
Narcissism in the Workplace
By educating yourself about NPD, you can avoid becoming a victim of narcissistic abuse at work. Review your employee handbook so you know what to do and who to approach for help when a narcissistic employee or boss crosses a boundary.
Doing activities with friends and leaning on your support network can help strengthen your self-esteem. Remember to seek support from specialists, support groups, and skilled lawyers.
Lawyers who deal with narcissists handle cases against these types of individuals and are used to contending with their behavior. They can advise you on what legal options to take so you can be compensated for the damage caused by a narcissistic boss or colleague.