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When You Work With a Narcissist: What to Do (and What Not to Do)

When You Work With a Narcissist: What to Do (and What Not to Do)

On 11 Jan 2018, in mental health, Workplace

Angie was one of the first people Jenny met on her first day of work. Jenny was relieved to have someone like Angie to show her around the office. Angie seemed to know everyone and enjoyed introducing Jenny to each employee. Angie spent all morning talking nonstop about all of her accomplishments and achievements. Jenny thought Angie was so knowledgeable and was not at all surprised when Angie told her that she expected to receive her third promotion this spring. Angie even promised to show Jenny the best places in the area to go for lunch. Angie said she was friendly with the ladies who worked at the deli and she never had to wait in line for her sandwiches. Later that afternoon, Jenny was mentioning to a coworker how helpful Angie had been that morning and that she really seemed to be on the fast track. “Fast track?!” the coworker stared at Jenny in disbelief. “Angie, has been passed over for promotions twice! She is so hard to work with because whenever people don’t agree with her ideas she gets angry and mean.” Jenny couldn’t believe they were taking about the same person.

“You really aren’t going to pick up her medicine from the pharmacy and take it to her?” Heather asked her husband, Ben. She couldn’t believe her ears. Ben’s sister, Sharon, was home recovering from a car accident that injured her and totaled her car. Sharon asked Ben to pick up her medicine from the pharmacy on his way home from work and drop it off to her because she was confined to her bed. Now, Heather couldn’t believe Ben was refusing to help his sister when she needed him. Ben practically spat at Heather, “Look! Why should I help her? I wasn’t even the first person she called when she had the accident. She called you. She didn’t want my help then, why does she want my help now?” Heather shook her head in frustration and walked away.

Angie and Ben are narcissists. A narcissist is a person who overestimates his own importance, craves constant attention and admiration from others, has chronic relationship problems and lacks empathy for others. These people may often seem arrogant and accomplished, but people are often surprised to find that underneath the fa├žade is a fragile self-esteem, unable to withstand the slightest criticism. 

When narcissists feel they are being criticized, they may explode with anger or try to belittle and verbally attack the other person to make themselves seem superior. Narcissists often expect special treatment and insist on having the best of everything. They can be difficult to get along with because they monopolize conversations, often take advantage of other people to achieve their own objectives and expect everyone to agree and comply with them without question.

So what do you do if you work with a narcissist? We want to work well with all types of people, but how can we deal with this?  

Problem behavior: Your coworker views himself as better than everyone else. He exaggerates his accomplishments, brags, takes credit for other people’s work and accuses anyone who does not admire him of being envious of him. He is ambitious and craves the attention of leadership. 

Don’t:

  • Allow yourself to be drawn into a competition with this person
  • Be attracted by his charisma and begin to admire him. You don’t want to be manipulated or used by this person. He will have no loyalty to you.

Do:

  • Focus your attention on your work to ensure your own successful outcomes. 
  • Ignore your coworker’s boastful behavior and recognize it for what it is -- an attempt to hide or mask low self-esteem.

Problem behavior: Your coworker is disrespectful and belittling to others during meetings. She ridicules others’ ideas and suggestions and/or tries to humiliate anyone whom she believes may be gaining positive attention from leadership. She tries to make herself seem superior by discrediting others. 

Don’t:

  • React towards the narcissist with anger during the meeting. That will make you look aggressive and the narcissist will make herself appear to be the victim. 

Do:

  • Avoid directly challenging the narcissist. Her pattern of negativity in meetings will become very evident to leadership quickly. By continually attacking others, she will make herself look bad.
  • Document proof of your work product and have confidence in your own abilities. When you begin to doubt yourself, the narcissist wins.  

Problem behavior: Your coworker believes himself to be the expert on every topic. It is nearly impossible to collaborate with him because he will not consider any opinion other than his own. He does not take direction or advice from others.

Don’t:

  • Directly challenge him. That may cause him to increase his efforts to convince everyone of his expert status. Don’t be triggered by his condescending tone. 

Do:

  • Politely thank him for his input and ask others to contribute to the discussion. Appear open to his point of view, but don’t endorse it.

During our life journey we encounter many people with countless different personality traits. Some traits can be more frustrating and stressful to deal with than others. Interacting with a narcissist can leave us frustrated, angry, hurt and confused but when we understand the motivation behind some of their most unpleasant behaviors it can help us manage those interactions more effectively.                                                                             

References:

Mayo Clinic. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Burgo, Joseph. The 5 Types of Toxic Narcissists at Work.

Tabaka, Maria. How to Deal With a Toxic Narcissist at Work.

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