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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.

3 Comments

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 1 mon 05 Jun
    Great ideas. thanks for sharing

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