Leadership

Helpful Tips For Dealing with a Narcissistic Boss

narcissistic boss

Your boss is a complete narcissist: he expects you to be at his whim all day, he blames everyone for mistakes except himself, argues and contradicts employees with every small detail even things he said himself!

A lot of people throw the term around, and it is true that some of the traits we associate with narcissists—selfishness, taking credit for other people’s work, temper tantrums–are common enough. But a true narcissist can make your life miserable.

Complicating the situation is that the ways you might handle problems with other difficult people might not work with a narcissist, and might even make things worse.

“No ego can match, never mind annihilate, the ego of the narcissist,” writes Margaret Heffernan in Willful Blindness. “What you have to decide is whether their achievement will facilitate your success. If it will, that’s fine. If these two are at odds, get out now.”

Take a look at the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or the take the quiz on PsychCentral.com to get a better idea of the level of dysfunction you are dealing with. If you do have a narcissist making your work miserable, learning how to handle your boss is essential.

Some Helpful Tips for Working with A Narcissist Boss

  1. Forget about being friends with your boss

Narcissists lack empathy, so they are not capable of true friendships. You might feel betrayed if you think you are becoming friends with one only to find they act without your interests in mind. If they are friendly to you, it is because they want something, whether your attention, your ideas, or anything else.

  1. Don’t criticize them

Simply put, a narcissist can’t take it. She not only won’t take your criticism to heart and try to work to address some of her behaviors, she may become angry. Really angry. Some narcissists can quickly spark into rage. At best your words will fall on deaf ears. At worst, you’ll be on the other side of a tantrum.

  1. Focus on analyzing problems

Remember that how you feel isn’t of much interest to your boss. You can try expressing your feelings, because he is not aware of your feelings unless you tell him. But although he understand in some way, he still won’t feel much about it. Better to focus on concrete ways to handle problems or conflicts. Give him solutions instead.

  1. Let him make decisions

Narcissists feel they know best. They tend to need control, so let them make decisions. Present your ideas in ways that let your boss feel he is making decisions. Usually that means giving him options. By letting him choose one he can feel he is making the decision.

  1. Make her look and feel good

Always remember that everything is about her. So if your words and actions make her feel good, she will be far more tolerable than if she feels that you are doing something that attacks her such as undermining her authority or criticizing her. Narcissists want praise and acknowledgement, so be prepared to give it to them.

  1. Absorb the blame

Narcissists don’t take responsibility for anything negative, whether it is a bad culture in the office or declining revenues. It has to be someone else’s fault.

  1. Set boundaries and keep them

If your narcissistic boss behaves in a way you can’t accept, you must tell him. The trick is, it may not help. But you have to make your boundaries clear as you can. Be sure not to criticize your boss in public. And as they saying goes, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Try to praise them as well as explain your solution to the problem (yes, he created it, but he doesn’t care, remember?)

  1. Don’t compete.

You may think that getting better results, more sales, or any other tangible evidence that you are doing a great job will convince your boss to treat you better. Wrong. Remember that the facts aren’t very convincing to the narcissist. Your boss will assume that you are doing good work because of what he taught you. Your award should be his; after all, you work for him, don’t you? You can’t win. Ever. So don’t play.

Working for a narcissistic boss requires some tamping down of yourself to comply with that worldview, or rather, self-view. It is not easy. But doing so will help you survive—until you find a better boss.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.