Have you ever tried talking to your manager about a project, only to have him or her cut you off to tell you about the award they won years ago? Do meetings feel like a one-person show starring your boss? Do they constantly try to one-up you and your colleagues?
If so, you've probably got a narcissist on your hands — and they're not the easiest people the work with.
“Working for a narcissistic boss is like riding a wild rollercoaster while being blindfolded,” says Teri Hockett, chief executive of What's For Work?, a career site for women. “You can be the golden child one moment and the next you are receiving all the blame.”
A true narcissist, Hockett says, has no concept of taking responsibility for anything negative, and will constantly “undercut anyone who challenges or does not respond to them in the manner that they deem deserving”.
Deborah Shane, a career author, speaker, and media consultant, concurs. “Working for a narcissist can be difficult because they typically make things about them. Just about everything and everyone they engage and interact with needs to make them look good and feel good.”
She says their egos also get in the way of teamwork, culture, and camaraderie. “Narcissists can fracture and divide a workplace, rather than unify and strengthen it.”
Think you might be working for a narcissistic boss? Here are seven tips for dealing with them:
Recognise the signs
The quicker you can identify their narcissistic traits, the easier it will be to mitigate the damage, Hockett says. A few signs you're dealing with a narcissistic boss: He or she requires excessive admiration, lacks empathy, speaks more than they listen, externalises blame and never takes responsibility for their own mistakes, enjoys telling others what to do, and never wants to be challenged, to name a few.
Keep your distance
Try not to emotionally engage with your boss until you have assessed their narcissistic tendencies.
“Be professional, congenial, yet guarded,” Hockett says. “It sounds like quite a conundrum; however, it is imperative that you do not share too much personal information that can potentially be used against you.”
Decide what are and are not acceptable ways to be treated, and have the courage to speak up when the line is crossed, Shane says.
Try saying: “The way you spoke to me was unnecessary and hurt my feelings,” or, “I respect your point of view, but I have one, too,” she suggests.
Be deferential, respectful, and guarded
“Understand that winds change quickly, and you may get undercut at any time,” Hockett says. “You can record and document every conversation and keep every email trail, but the narcissist has the ability to think quickly and act differently. And you will never see it coming.”
Odds are, you are not the only one feeling stressed, disrespected, or guarded with your boss. However, do not be the one who talks about it with co-workers, Hockett says. Gossip has a way of making the rounds, and the last thing you need is for your narcissistic boss to catch wind of what you're saying.
“Schedule a private meeting with your narcissistic boss and tell him all the things that you appreciate about him, and make some specific suggestions as to what you would appreciate they work on,” Shane suggests. This is a two-way relationship, so remember to have a voice, especially if you are a good employee and producer. “That does carry clout, as they don't really want to lose their best people,” she concludes.
Establish an exit plan
If you try the above tactics and things still don't improve, begin your job search immediately, Hockett says. Or, consider looking for another position within your company. Talk to HR to find out if you can switch teams and work for a different manager.