How to Avoid Being Controlled by a Narcissistic Boss

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Mar 21, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Narcissistic. Bully boss. Jerk. Toxic leader.

Employees use these terms to describe a supervisor or manager who creates havoc by the dysfunctional way they relate to others.

Someone who is narcissistic is totally, completely focused on themselves (the term comes from the Greek goddess, Narcissus, who spent most of her day admiring herself in the mirror.) If you think about the characteristic on a continuum, there is being self-focused (like a young child), then ego-centric (literally, “I centered”), to self- absorbed and then ultimately, narcissistic.

Characteristics of a narcissist

Narcissists display the following characteristics, attitudes and behaviors:

  • Their conversations are centered on them. The most common subject of a sentence is “I ...”  They become disinterested and disengage from any conversation that doesn’t focus on them or what they know.
  • They believe they know everything about any topic, and they are always right. They make decisions on what is best for them; the impact on others is not important.
  • They are condescending, critical, and expect others to meet their needs.
  • They take credit for anything good that happens, whether or not they were involved. Conversely, anything bad that happens is a result of someone else’s stupidity or not following their advice.
  • Image is hugely important to them. Most of their decisions will focus on looking good rather than doing what is best to serve clients.

What to do if you work for a narcissist?

Do …

  • Do your work. Focus on your job, not on what they are doing. If you don’t, when things go bad, you will be blamed and take the fall.
  • Document conversations and decisions made with your boss. Follow-up with an email stating: “From our conversation, this is what I understand you want me to do … If that is not the case, please inform me.”
  • Take care of yourself. Narcissistic bosses will “use you up” to reach their goals.  You have to set limits on what you are and are not willing to do.

Don’t …

  • Don’t expect them to praise you (or give you credit for doing a good job.)
  • Don’t expect them to change. A true narcissist is structurally damaged, and views the world from a distorted point of view. They are who they are, and will continue to make choices from their view of themselves.
  • Don’t take their criticism personally. Narcissists are critical of everyone and use “put down’s,” criticism and embarrassment as part of their arsenal in trying to make themselves look good in front of them.
  • Last, know when it’s time to move on. If the duration, frequency, and intensity of the negative behaviors have culminated in an overall negative impact on your life, it might be time to quit. Develop a plan for finding a new job and implement it over time. Learn from your current circumstances, and hang in there until you can say “so long” to your narcissistic boss.

For other tools and resources to deal with narcissistic boss, click here for information on our book Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, and our training resources, The Toxic Workplace Prevention and Repair Kit.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.