How to Work for a Narcissistic Boss

George J. Ziogas

Learn to cope with them well enough to get what you’re after

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Nothing makes work more unbearable than working for a real narcissist. Narcissistic bosses blame other people for their mistakes and take credit for their successes. They belittle and yell for no reason but to boost their own egos. They insist things get done their way, even if their way doesn’t work, and when disaster inevitably results, well, see the first point.

They throw temper tantrums, complain constantly, and in general act as paragons of selfishness. Dealing with all of that’s difficult. Even worse is the fact that the methods you use to handle other difficult people often don’t work with narcissists, and can actually make the situation even worse. Fortunately, there are things you can do to cope.

Get Out!

Once you realize that your boss is a narcissist, the first thing you need to do is consider if it’s even worth staying in your position. Narcissists only tolerate the presence of people who either enable their behavior or who hold their tongues. Your boss will never get better, and you’ll have to contend with their out of control egos every day. That can put you through a lot of stress, and long term stress is very bad for you. You need to decide whether working for that boss for now will facilitate your future success, and if that’s worth the price you’ll have to pay. If it isn’t, get out immediately.

Don’t React

If you decide to stay in your position, the only way to successfully cope is to change the way you respond to your boss. Don’t react to their provocations with anger, distress, fear, or even by trying to be especially helpful. Narcissists need attention, even negative attention. Giving them the attention and validation they crave by reacting in the way they’re trying to make you react just makes them more likely to behave that way in the future. Instead, try acting dispassionate, professionally, and a little distant. If you notice that you’re starting to react emotionally to what your boss is doing, step away from the situation until you regain self-control.

Use the Magician’s Choice

One of the ways that stage magicians do their tricks is to make it seem like they’re letting the audience make choices about how the trick is done while in reality giving them no real choice at all. All of the choices they offer their audiences are cosmetic; none have any effect on the actual trick. Learn how to do this with your boss. Narcissists need to feel that they’re in control, so help them feel like they’re making the decisions while really keeping the power for yourself. Give your boss options that all end up meaning that things will get done the way you want them to.

Never Criticize Them

Despite the tough front they put up, narcissists are incredibly fragile. They can’t take criticism, no matter how neutrally or positively you frame it. They will always respond to criticism with anger and even with revenge. Try thinking of your narcissistic boss as an animal or a force of nature, as something that it’s pointless to try to engage with or change.

Don’t Take Things Personally

If your boss decides to go after you for any reason, they’re most likely going to get nasty about it. They may even try to manipulate you into believing that it’s all your fault. You can’t afford to let this happen. Just keep reminding yourself that nothing your boss says really matters, and that you shouldn’t take any of it personally.

Don’t Talk about Feelings

Your narcissist boss doesn’t care about your feelings or those of anyone else in the company. It’s pointless to try to discuss feelings with your boss. Instead, focus on solving problems and resolving conflicts in a concrete, results-oriented manner.

Fact-Check Everything

Your narcissist boss won’t always give you the truth. If you want to actually get the job done and protect yourself from problems with the higher-ups, you need to make sure you understand exactly what’s really going on. Fact-check everything your boss tells you instead of taking them at their word.

Don’t Compete with Your Coworkers

Your narcissist boss doesn’t care about your accomplishments and will not reward you for getting more sales or producing more than your coworkers do. It’s therefore a waste of your time and effort to compete with them for your boss’ attention. All you’ll do is wear yourself out and maybe turn some of your coworkers into enemies for no reason.

Stay Focused on Your Goals

Working for a narcissist boss is stressful. You have to put up with everything revolving around them, a complete lack of responsibility, and constant mind games. Whenever it starts getting to be too much for you, remember the goals you’re working toward. Think about how you’re going to eventually benefit from what you’re having to put up with now. It’ll help you keep a sense of perspective.

The Takeaway

It’ll never be easy, working for a narcissistic boss. If you can’t just walk away, you have to keep your sense of perspective and avoid feeding your boss’ negative behaviors. You can’t change them, but maybe you can learn to cope with them well enough to get what you’re after.

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