Narcissism

Working with a Narcissist

3 ways to get the upper hand

Posted Feb 25, 2013

Shutterstock with Permission
Source: Shutterstock with Permission

Have you ever worked with someone who’s selfish, arrogant, and manipulative? If so, chances are, you’re working with a narcissist.   

Narcissists like to hear the sound of their own voice. They are individuals who thrive on being the center of attention and tend to put down others they feel are inferior. At work, narcissists are power hungry and will go to great lengths to gain power.

Here are the three steps you should use when working with a narcissist:

1. Determine if he or she is a true narcissist.

First thing's first. Find out if the person is a true narcissist. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I would prefer that you use the Narcissist Personality Quiz provided by PsychCentral.com. Although it’s designed to determine if you’re a narcissist, you could apply it to the person you’re trying to assess. 

After taking the test, proceed to Step 2.

2. Know how a narcissist thinks.

Narcissist work under their own set of rules. Narcissists only care about themselves. And, therefore, when working with a narcissist, you need to keep in mind that they will never be your bestie. They will befriend you to see what they can get out of you and, in their mind, will do favors expecting that you will do the same. 

Unfortunately, in the workplace, you can’t just write this person off and walk away. So the best thing to do is to go along with him or her.

Narcissists don’t do well with criticism. If you ever have an issue with a narcissist, never blame them directly as this will only infuriate them. The best thing to do is to be indirect and talk around the issue. So make it more about how you feel and how it’s impacting you versus how they are at fault.

Narcissists also expect you to be immediately responsive the moment they demand attention. I once had a boss who would send me an instant message asking if I was there at my desk, then a minute later he would send me an email, and then another minute later he would call my phone. All because he wanted a very trivial question answered. 

After he did this to me a few times, I caught onto his psychological game, and so what did I start to do? I ignored him. It’s a risky play to ignore a narcissist, but in this case, I knew that he was always persistent to the point that if I was not there to answer his question, he would find someone else that would. 

I leave it with you to decide what best works for you. What you need to know is that when a narcissist wants something, they want it now.

3. Learn to handle working with a narcissist.

Always lead with how you feel first. Narcissists are caught up in their own world and, as a result, lack empathy. Sharing your emotions is a huge blind spot because you’re forcing them to put your feelings first. 

If emotional guilt is not your thing, then your next strategy is to focus on solutions and not the problem. Narcissists like to focus on the problem and dissect it over and over again. Rather than falling into the pitfall of seeing the glass half empty, flip it on its head and influence the narcissist to see the glass half full. State the problem and quickly move towards the solution. 

It’s typically best to present several solutions. Narcissists like to be in control, and the more options you can provide, the better off you are. Options are a way to unconsciously make them feel like you respect their opinion and are asking for them to control the direction of the solution.

Lastly, if all else fails, then your last option is to make them feel special and unique. Narcissists get high off of being in power and live for attention and admiration. If you want them to do something, tell them how great they are, and watch them perform. 

Bernardo Tirado, PMP

Bernardo is a Behavioral Scientist and Industrial Psychologist with certifications in Six Sigma, Project Management, and Agile/Scrum.  He covers leadership and technology for PsychologyToday.com. 

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