- A narcissist at work may make your day-to-day difficult.
- In many situations, there isn’t much you can do besides work around your narcissistic coworker.
- However, if your organization is tolerating a workplace bully or rewarding a narcissist with raises or promotions, you may need to consider finding a new job.
The leading piece of advice on getting involved with a narcissist: Don’t do it.
“However, sometimes that is impossible if the narcissist is your boss or coworker,” Dr. Neil J. Lavender, author of “Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job,” told Business Insider.
The most important thing to keep in mind with a narcissistic coworker is that changing them is very difficult, if not impossible, Lavender said. They’re going to be focused on getting ahead, displaying their inherent superiority over others, and rejecting all evidence that they’re not flawless.
“There is very little that anyone can do to change a narcissist because that would fundamentally involve them admitting there is a problem, which is a near impossible task,” Dr. Karlyn Borysenko, Principal at Zen Workplace, told Business Insider.
While there are cases where a narcissist’s behavior necessitates approaching the higher-ups or finding a new job, most narcissist coworkers aren’t really threatening. So, focus on keeping your sanity and structuring your behaviors in a way that won’t set the narcissist off, thereby making them an even bigger presence in your life.
Here are seven signs that you may be dealing with a narcissistic coworker – and how to handle them.
They love you in one moment, and hate you in the next
Narcissists see the world in black and white.
“They will love you at first but if you disappoint them they will hate you,” Lavender said. “There is no middle-of-the-road.”
What to do: When they’re being kind, enjoy it. But Lavender said it’s likely that they’re just buttering you up for their own benefit, so watch out. The best tactic is to steer clear of him or her, but that may be unavoidable.
If they’re going on a tirade about something you or someone else did wrong, re-direct the conversation to the task at hand. Try this line from Harvard Medical School lecturer Dr. Craig Malkin, author of “Rethinking Narcissism”:
“I’m not sure how this feedback helps us solve the problems and finish the project. What specific changes did you want to make or have in mind? Let’s just make them so we can wrap this up.”
They refuse to talk about anything other than themselves
If your coworker is constantly gearing the conversation back to themselves, they might be a narcissist.
“They always want to be surrounded by their ‘fans’ and love ‘holding court,’ telling stories while others listen in a state of rapture,” Lavender said. “Often these stories center around what they considered to be their ‘amazing’ accomplishments, usually over exaggerating their achievements.”
What to do: Understanding that you can’t stop your coworker from these flights of fancy, try to change how you think about them instead.
“Remove the expectation that they are going to behave logically,” Borysenko said. “It’s not going to happen, and once you detach from that expectation it will help put their behaviors in context.”
They try to take credit for your ideas
What to do: While some narcissistic behaviors, like the tendency to glaze over if you talk about anything other than their amazing selves, are simply annoying, this one could damage your success at the workplace. So, you can’t just ignore this act.
The typical course of action if someone is stealing your ideas is to approach the coworker and tell them that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable.
In this case, however, Malkin said you should go even further and “meticulously record all your work … when working with the idea thief so everyone knows where the work came from.”
That means saving emails in a folder when they display your ideas, or taking notes during meetings so you can record when an idea is your own.
Even though they’re often negative about everyone around them, they reject critiques of themselves
A narcissist won’t accept even the smallest piece of criticism, Borysenko said. Any inkling that they’re less than perfect will drive them over the edge.
That makes it impossible to move ahead in the workplace if you need to tell them something they did wrong.
What to do: Lavender suggested “sandwiching” your critiques. Here, you begin with something positive, include your criticism in the most positive way, and then end with another positive message.
Here’s one “sandwich,” provided by Lavender:
“Frank, I just called you in here to let you know what a fantastic job you’re doing for us. Your numbers are sky high! We can really use your talent.
“I wonder if you could help some of the other salesman by being a little more patient with them. They could learn a lot from you. When the secretaries and other coworkers ask you for help, try to understand that they are looking for you to be the leader that we see that you are.
“Could you help us out that way?”
They insist on being in charge — even if they’re not qualified
Narcissists are highly manipulative and believe that they are inherently superior, Lavender said. They’ll do anything to achieve their of being in charge and are happy to charm the higher ups to get what they want.
And, it actually sort of works, Lavender said. Because narcissists are charming and confident, people (including your bosses) are drawn to their alluring energy.
Your bosses might reward your narcissist coworker with promotions and raises even if he or she didn’t do the work. Studies have shown that narcissists are more likely to assume leadership roles – though research has also shown that they’re not necessarily more effective leaders.
What to do: If you notice your bosses are rewarding your narcissistic coworker with opportunities that you aren’t able to enjoy, it may be time to consider a new job.
A company that promotes people who are ruthless and lack empathy is probably not one you want to be part of.
They’ll rarely apologize for a mess they made
Many narcissists refuse to admit that they’ve done something wrong, and they will always find a person or situation to blame for a mistake, Borysenko said.
What to do: Narcissists want to feel in control. So when you need to tell them to change something, do it in a way that makes them feel empowered.
Instead of saying “Your strategy failed because of X, Y, and Z,” Borysenko suggested saying something like this after presenting your solution to a mess they made:
“In the future, I wonder what would happen if we tried it this way instead. What do you think?”
That allows the narcissist to think that the focus is on their intelligence and great ideas.
Or go back to the sandwich technique, with this line from Malkin:
“Your approach to the last week’s presentation was so clear and thoughtfully laid out. All your strengths really came through. I’d like more of what you brought to last week’s presentation in this one.”
They might be seriously bullying you at work
“Not all narcissists are bullies, but some are,” Malkin said.
Name-calling, yelling, excluding from projects, gossiping with malice, and over-the-top or selective punishment are some common workplace bully moves, according to Malkin.
“Any or all of these behaviors damage you and they damage workplace safety,” Malkin said.
What to do: Malkin said to document these instances in detail with dates, time, names, witnesses, and every bullying word and action. Go to your boss or to human resources with this evidence, and demand change.
“It’s the responsibility of the organization and the bully to end their behaviors, not yours,” Malkin said. “You can’t stop them, nor should you feel the pressure to try.”
And if a bullying narcissist doesn’t curb his or her behavior, and the organization doesn’t seem keen on stopping it either, it may be time to get a new job.