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4 Ways to Handle Your Narcissistic Boss

Some bosses seem to think they are the center of the universe. They can be extremely difficult people to work with or for, but before you run screaming from the office, consider these four ways to cope.


(Photo Credit: jndollars/Flickr)

Writing for the High Conflict Institute, Bill Eddy, LCSW reminds us that personality is formed during childhood, and personality traits are not easily changed. Rather, they are deeply ingrained. You cannot change your boss's narcissistic tendencies, but you can develop skills to help you deal with his toxic behavior patterns.

1. Understand Narcissism

A narcissistic person's moods swing back and forth; at the same time, they are predictable. He likely believes he is superior to others, but on an unconscious level, is quite insecure. Direct confrontation seldom goes well and is ill-advised.

Your self-centered boss might seem like two different people: the sweet-talking manager who "kisses up" to folks higher on the corporate ladder, and the vindictive boss who blames everybody else for everything. Both modes are temporary and you can learn to manage your own behavior in order to best manage his.

2. Show Empathy or Respect

Do not lie and make up a bunch of compliments just to get on his good side. Offer a sincere compliment when it is deserved. Even your narcissistic manager does some things well. If you notice these good things, you may find yourself in his favor.

Ask him for advice or help when appropriate. He may appreciate others acknowledging his superior skills. If he really is good at something, you may benefit from asking his advice. At the same time, remember the next vital step in this list:

3. Take Nothing Personally

Remind yourself that your boss's responses or reactions are not about you. They are about his need to feel superior. If he is being snarky or patronizing, remember this is not a reflection on you or your work, but rather caused by his own deep-seated needs. Donna Flagg at Psychology Today recommends simply not responding to your boss's bravado and dealing with the facts.

4. Correct Misinformation

In keeping with the idea of sticking with the facts, you should correct any misinformation as it arises. If your boss says something belittling about you -- for example, how you always get work done at the last minute -- you may both defend yourself and avoid direct confrontation.

Simply respond with facts in an unemotional tone. "I turned in the Brown report early so that the client could request revisions. I then made the revisions and turned it in when due."

If you're honest and accurate and support your statements with data, it will be hard for the boss to sell others on the idea that you don't do your job. 

Tell Us What You Think

Do you work with a narcissistic manager or co-worker? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

8 Comments

  1. 8 Dolly P 14 Aug
    I had to work with a new boss sometimes in 2010 and immediately he resumed he started advising me to resign. That battle I had to fight for about three years cos I felt he had to right asking me to resign. Fast forward 3 years after a new person was employed to take his position , a very wonderful woman. There was nothing negative my former boss didn`t say about me. he went about spreading all sorts of falsehood about just because he felt I was happy that he was leaving that position. Fast forward two years again, he made sure my new boss and I got fired while I was on maternity leave. It is worth mentioning that I was the HR manager and my new boss Head of HR/Admin. A year a after I was recalled and now he`s made sure I was demoted and my salary slashed. Well, I`m working desperately on a plan B cos I can`t stand him anymore.
  2. 7 greta10 08 Apr
    I am currently working for a narcissist manager. I knew she was a bad boss, but I had never been able to understand why she acted the way she does until I read this article and the article on the High Conflict Institute website. She frequently makes me feel that the job is living hell. Until our junior staff arrive, I am the only one under her supervision, so I get the brunt of things when she is on a power trip. She regularly tries to take credit for my work and ideas, she is condescending, she cannot entertain other people's suggestions, she is extremely self-aggrandizing, she belittles other people, and she blames others for every problem she sees - and not only at work, according to what she's told me. This woman seems to have no ability to be empathetic or to understand why people pull away from her. The person who previously had my position apparently used to go home and cry every evening, and a man who used to be one of my manager's co-workers warned me just after I had started that my manager refused to listen to other people's ideas, was controlling, and had a "my way or the highway" attitude. While my boss was charming to me during my interview and my initial dealings with her, she has since done everything from misrepresenting the nature of the position to isolating me from the board members, so that I have no easy way of complaining or even contributing to the organization, to attempting to plagiarize my writing. For a long time, I have been trying to deal with her through assertiveness, self-care, and limiting my contact with her. But reading these articles have shown me that she is not going to change, and even my most inventive strategies (I have already learned to flatter her and to suggest my ideas by making her think they are her own) are not going to make things easier for me mentally or emotionally. As the article says, dealing with her is exhausting. However, reading the article has also shown me that I'm not alone and that this is definitely not my issue- it is something completely external. I am currently looking for other jobs, but in the meantime, this information will definitely help me to hang on to my sanity. Thanks.
  3. 6 Safety Man 15 Mar
    I've worked for a number of narcissistic bosses in the role of an Adviser to them. The problem is if you give advise which makes them feel they have somehow missed something of importance (even if the conversation is in private without making it personal or confrontational), then in my experience they will still try to insult you, indirectly bring you into question/spread rumors about you or just get rid of you from the company. This is typically because 'they feel' that they have been shown to be inferior, not that you are simply doing your job to help them in theirs. It doesn't matter how you phrase / frame the information either. Equally if you don't provide the advise that you're employed to give, then you are not doing your job. Equally they will also limit your opportunities to 'show them up', therefore opportunities for showing yourself in a good light vanish while they have all the glory for something you've done well. It seems like there's only a couple of options open to anyone in this situation: short term strategies for managing the situation, then find another job (I did this only to find another narcissistic boss who was my direct line manager!) I think there is only one real solution to this problem. Companies should look more carefully at those placed into Management roles to see if they are the right calibre of person with the right character to manage people properly. This is the only way to edit out these types of bosses from companies and the workplace. To date I've worked with around 8+ senior managers/bosses who are narcissistic and have made peoples lives a misery working for them.
  4. 5 Ed 14 Feb
    The employees at our company fall into 2 categories: those who know the boss is a narcissist (and talk about it amongst ourselves) and those who don't. The younger, less-experienced one's don't know - and are easily emotionally manipulated, denigrated etc - even to turn on each other when the boss needs his narcissistic fix. Those with big ego's (low self-esteem) are the most easily manipulated. The rest of us remain an enigma to him, and our collective and stubborn refusal to play into his manipulative hands has him befuddled. Our only good fortune is this knowledge comes together with our work experience and technical skills, things he depends on when the customers are yelling on the phone. So far so good.
  5. 4 Officially Unofficial 20 Oct
    I accepted a job after interviewing with my Manager, his Manager and the Director of Operations for our North American Manufacturing Plants; all of which I had good alignment for strategy and building teamwork to get results. On my last day with my previous company I was told by HR, not to report to the Corporate Offices, but to go to a local manufacturing facility. There, I was greeted by my officially unofficial narcissist boss for the first time. He was hired by the CEO as a "consultant", because he could not hire him directly due to his agreement with his previous company. The Narcissist told me that he was accountable to noone other than the CEO. This was true. The Plant Manager had left, and the next level of managers had all been ridiculed before subornments. The Narcissist hired four minions he worked with from the previous company and there was me; also unofficially reporting to him. I was told by those that had worked with him that it is not recommended to make any suggestions. However, if I do, do so at my own risk and make sure it is in a private setting. Only the Narcissist knew the overall plan. My real manager, his manager and the Director of Operations, all told me to just do the best I could. I never met with the Narcissist, when he did not let me know how smart he was and how the people in the plant were resistant and didn’t know %&@^. All of his lack of results were because people didn’t follow what he said.
  6. 3 Yelo 30 Aug
    My boss is the king of narcissism. After many years (maybe too many) of working with him, I still don't know who he really is other than what I'm writing here. He has to win everything; he's condescending; he's indirectly and directly insulting; he feigns interest to find out about an employee and then uses what he learns against the person, usually indirectly. Depending on his mood, however, he is forgiving of mistakes unless they are costly to the company (eats into his bonus). He must keep others down...I suppose it makes him feel like a big person. Being kind and understanding makes him all the more obnoxious because then he acts like he's even more special than he already does. He is selfish and self-centered, and spiteful. He thinks integrity is a weakness. Every now and again I feel sorry for him, but more so for his children.
  7. 2 D-man 05 Jun
    Yes, this works.  My boss mellowed out quite a bit. but I did have to put up with lots of shnaniggans though.  Just have to know that what bosses say is his opinions not necessarily facts. 
  8. 1 mon 05 Jun
    Great ideas. thanks for sharing

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