3 Steps to Handle a Narcissistic Boss

How to determine your priorities and act with purpose.

Posted Jan 27, 2017

Source: Pexels.com

Narcissists have the uncanny ability to make you feel like gold one moment and like dirt the next. When they explode, it’s with a no-holds-barred attitude. Anything is fair game, including exposing information that was shared in private.

Of course, your boss should expect loyalty. However, not knowing when you will be in the “hot seat” is demoralizing and unnerving.

According to Peg Streep, author of Quitting and fellow PT blogger, “You need to set your own personal goals, and come up with strategies to minimize the impact that your boss' actions have on you. You should recognize that it's unlikely that successful efforts will be seen as the result of team efforts, including yours, and that failures will be blamed on others since the boss isn't likely to take responsibility.”

Not all narcissists march to the same beat. And, some narcissistic bosses are more tolerable than are others. According to Ms. Streep, “If there are things you can actually learn from this person--he or she may have considerable talents--you should focus on those and prepare yourself to be as unreactive as possible to the game-playing and drama that inevitably follow in the narcissist's wake. Setting clear goals for yourself and preparing yourself for conflicts using ‘If/Then’ thinking--if he/she does X, I will do Y--are helpful tools for navigating what's doubtless going to be a pretty toxic working situation.”

What You’re Thinking

When I took this job, I had no idea that my polished boss could be so mean! I’ve learned that my day is much more pleasant if I can stay below his radar. Knowing that my actions are constantly being scrutinized has me jumping out of my skin. Just the other day, my boss praised me privately and then outwardly embarrassed me five minutes later, because he felt I crossed him. What’s next? Why is he so flippant and hypercritical?

A Narcissist’s Thoughts

I’m responsible for this whole team. None of these workers would be anywhere without me. I can be someone’s best friend or worst enemy. If people cross the line with me, then they deserve to be exposed and ridiculed. After all, why should I respect workers who aren’t loyal to me?


Your goal is to be treated with respect by reducing hostility and developing mutual trust.

1.    Respect yourself. You can speak up without either cringing or being insubordinate.

2.    Clarify expectations. Don’t leave a conversation without fully understanding what is expected. Then, create a paper trail by recapping your conversation by email.

3.    Highlight priorities. Stress what’s important to the company—getting assigned work completed and performed well.

Tactical Talk

Boss (in public): I need [xyz] done by tomorrow. I’m expecting perfection. You used to be my shining star, but I’m not so sure I can count on you anymore. Maybe I should just give this project to Billy.

You: What you are asking me to do now is different from what we discussed yesterday. I sent you an email right after our other conversation, to make sure we were on the same page.

Boss: Do you think I have time to read all the emails that come through my inbox?

You: I know that we both have the same goal, which is to do work correctly the first time. I want to meet your standards but am confused about expectations. Is it more important for me to change direction now or to meet the original deadline?

Tip: Narcissists lack self-confidence, which is why they are so quick to turn on you if your actions will make them look bad. Emphasize your loyalty while standing your ground and you’ll be back on their good side in no time. Still, always keep one eye open due to their unpredictable nature. Further, as Ms. Streep cautions, “…unless the benefits of staying outweigh the downside over the long haul, you need to figure out when you can leave.”

Many thanks to Peg Streep for an interesting interview! Readers, please share your experiences and questions as a reply to this article. I will gladly shape future articles based on viewer feedback. Please, also, read my earlier post on narcissism here.

Want to learn more about handling difficult people in the workplace? Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Read my book Working with Difficult People or visit www.amycooperhakim.com.

Also, learn more about Peg Streep by visiting her blog at PT (Tech Support) and by vising her Facebook page.

Copyright© 2017 Amy Cooper Hakim