How To Deal With A Narcissist At Work
Your intuition has started to raise some red flags and you’re wondering, “Does anyone else see this?” You’re suspicious. He’s one way with you, but uses flattery on the boss. He talks too much on the Zoom meeting and interrupts others. You might tell yourself, “He’s just insecure and needs attention.” But then again, it might be bigger than that. He gets away with problems more than a typical employee would and some people even make excuses for him. He shows no remorse for his mistakes, taking defensiveness to the next level, and only apologizes to maintain his good status.
There are plenty of poor managers out there, but a Narcissist in the workplace can be especially tough. Narcissists breed Narcissistic work systems that cause chaos and drama. One of the worst parts about being in these systems is the mental and emotional space it takes from your work and might even take attention away from your personal life. There’s alliances, scheme plotting, and power plays.
To answer your question, others will see it- if they want to. This raises the larger issue that there are a lot of people that attach themselves to Narcissists for a variety of reasons. The more that we depend on someone for worth and meaning, the more difficult it is to see their flaws. Narcissists appear to be larger than life. They give us certainty when our lives feel out of control, they can make us look good as we pledge allegiance to their mission, and maybe the inner child in all of us wants a larger than life person to tell us that we’re awesome and they see us. So what happens when a Narcissist makes a mistake? Nothing. It would be too much of a cost to hold them accountable, so we let them do it over and over again and WE pay the cost instead. This lack of accountability creates unsafe work environments and you may be thinking, “What did I get myself into?”
There are standard procedures at healthy workplaces that we rely on to keep the environment safe for everyone to carry on with their work. Some workplaces even have “Zero Tolerance” policies for things like sexual harassment and discrimination. We rely on leaders to keep people in line and enforce consequences when needed. Even with these policies in place, Narcissists have a knack for getting by without accountability because the right people enable them- usually others with power. It’s natural to think that if something fishy is going on at work, you make a complaint to management. If the person you want to make a complaint about isn’t a Narcissist and you work in a healthy workplace, then by all means, management will take care of it and hold them accountable. However, there’s risk in speaking up against the Narcissist, so it’s important to know if the coworker you are going to call out is a Narcissist.
How do you know if you are dealing with a Narcissist at work?
- Repeat offender: A friendly coworker may make a mistake, own up to it, apologize, rectify it, and won’t make the mistake again. Narcissists on the other hand will make a mistake, not know that they hurt you until you say something, defend themselves, and then hurt you or someone else again. They usually don’t have just one person in the workplace that don’t trust them, but multiple people.
- They have groupies: The technical narcissistic term for this is “flying monkeys.” These are people that will defend the Narcissist, sometimes at all costs, even if the Narcissist did something obviously wrong. If they are people in power, they will not be able to hold the Narcissist accountable. They minimize and make up excuses for the Narcissist.
- Relational Power: Narcissists know how to use relational power to their advantage. They are able to charm those with power into a relationship that moves forward their own agenda: to be liked, to have a good image, to be the best, to have more power.
- Maintain Power and Control: Narcissists may feel threatened by someone who is out of their control or is a threat to their power. This may be someone who is well-spoken and gets more speaking time than the Narcissist. It could be someone who is more liked than the Narcissist, or knows more about a topic than the Narcissist. In this case, the Narcissist might criticize that person publicly, spread gossip about them, or not promote them- whatever they can do to win.
- Won’t take feedback: Not only are people scared to confront the Narcissist with feedback because of their power, once they do get the courage to say something, it is faced with resistance. The Narcissist will justify their actions and maybe employ their groupies to make you the problem.
What do you do if your coworker is a Narcissist?
- Don’t call them out. The more power the Narcissist has, the more uncomfortable they can make the workplace for you. They aren’t able to hear feedback anyways, and it’s not worth sacrificing your job health. Narcissists are usually surrounded by enablers who also won’t do anything to create a healthier workplace.
- Own your reality. Once you start seeing the Narcissist for who he is, there will be two categories of people: the ones who see it, and the ones who don’t. The ones who don’t might gaslight you and it’s easy to think that you are going crazy. Once again, people will only see it or believe you if their worth is not attached to the Narcissist.
- Boundaries. The best way to get around a Narcissist at work is to “grey rock.” Have as little of conversations as you can with them.
- They are using you. Narcissists tend to use people. Before you get sucked into thinking that this is your friend who cares about you at work, be mindful of how their relationship with you might be used to move forward their own agenda. Are you a subordinate who makes them look good? Do you make money for them? Are you friends with someone who might promote them?
- You are what you tolerate. This rule doesn’t only apply to our relationships- it applies to our workplaces too. If you feel like you are putting up with more than you should be at work, evaluate whether or not it is a good fit for you. There might be multiple reasons you want to stay: dream job, pay, location, loyalty. In your evaluation, it’s good to remember that Narcissists don’t change. If there are problems now, there will be problems in the future.