Impossible to Please

Handling hypercritical people at work and at home

Coping With Narcissistic Coworkers: Some Unique Strategies

These self-centered, fabulously egotistical coworkers are a handful. Got skills?

Narcissists at work present special challenges, but the difficulties depend most upon how much power, influence, and daily face-to-face contact exists. Thus, a narcissistic boss with whom you have constant contact will be a much greater challenge to you than a narcissistic coworker whom you rarely see. Because a good deal of your financial and emotional welfare depends upon your employment, destructive narcissistic relationships can be a little more critical than, for example, social relationships with the very self-centered. As a result, effective interactions can become even more important. The exercises in this chapter were designed with the workplace in mind.

The following strategies are designed not only to protect you from the narcissist’s toxins but also to make you a valued employee who is less likely to be dismissed from your job due to fallout from the narcissist.

If Possible, Avoid the Offender

Perhaps the most obvious way to deal with one-way relationships at work is to simply avoid them. If there is a narcissist in the lunchroom, eat somewhere else. If she is in payroll, avoid payroll. This may not be easy because people are drawn to narcissists, and there is usually a lot of action whenever they are around. Narcissists like to be seen as movers and shakers, and being around them often fills a need within us to be a part of it all. It makes us feel energized and important. Plus, narcissists always have some way of drawing you in. Remember though, narcissists are like Las Vegas: a lot of flashing bright lights with tons of excitement, but you usually walk away the loser. Better to stay away if you can.

Develop Talking Points and Stick to Them

Take a lesson from the politicians. When you are in a position where you have to interact with a narcissistic coworker, rehearse the discussion as much as you can beforehand. Have a strategy. Know exactly what you want to achieve and stick to that. Don’t let the narcissist suck you in to his own agendas or distract you with flattery. Politely acknowledge his agendas and get right back to your talking points. And keep the list of talking points short, two or three at best.

Stay in Your Lane

Another simple yet often overlooked strategy is to simply do your job and not to get distraced by the narcissist. We believe that this is always the best work strategy. Being known to your employer as a good and conscientious employee will protect you from the slings and arrows aimed at you by narcissistic coworkers. Don’t get involved in the office gossip about or with narcissistic people. If the narcissist invites you to do something outside the office, such as playing golf, politely decline. If the narcissist asks you to do special favors, simply say you are too busy doing your work. If she starts denigrating another of your coworkers, excuse yourself and go back to your job. It may take a while, but eventually the narcissist will get the picture and troll for supplies elsewhere. And don’t forget that when you stay in your lane, do your work, and resist the bait (“Wow, you’d make a great addition to my political action committee!”), you are supporting your organization’s goals, which makes you an invaluable employee who is worth protecting. Even from narcissists!

Don’t Get Taken in by the Flattery

Remember the process of splitting? After the narcissist adores you, he hates you. The narcissist will flatter the heck out of you in the beginning, projecting his fantasies of perfection onto you. If you have something that is valuable to him, he will think that you are wonderful. If you accept the flattery, you will have opened the door to a relationship. When the narcissist inevitably finds out that you are only human, he will become disappointed and then will totally devalue you, and you will be persona non grata. So, don’t be deceived by the flattery in the first place.

Lookout for Possible End Runs

If a narcissistic coworker is someone whom you have to work with or go through on a regular basis, sometimes you may choose to go around and not through her. For example, suppose you are doing a report with a narcissistic coworker who is grandstanding and wasting time by trying to expand her portion of the report. Rather than telling her to speed it up and risk a vitriolic and self-serving attack about how you cannot appreciate all the wonderful things she is putting into the report, go to the narcissist’s boss and ask the boss to ask your coworker to speed things up.

It helps to be a strong networker and to cultivate relationships with others who may have more influence over the narcissist than you do. You may be able to find common ground in your organization with key individuals. Although someone might be three layers of management above you, that person is your equal while the two of you attend the same church or when both of you collect and have an affection for old vinyl records or when both of you belong to the local Rotary Club. Maybe you have a mutual friend. It would be very difficult, indeed, for your narcissistic boss to abuse his boss’s outside-of-work associate, that being you!

Also, don’t forget the strategy of going over someone’s head. While we do not feel that this is a good strategy to use all the time, it is certainly handy when used strategically.

(Exerpted in part from The One-Way Relationship Workbook). . . by Neil Lavender, PH.D. and Alan Cavaiola, PH.D.)

Image: iStock

Need more strategies?

 The One-Way Relationship Workbook. . . by Neil Lavender, PH.D. and Alan Cavaiola, PH.D.

Neil J. Lavender, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and a professor of psychology at Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.

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