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How to Handle a Narcissistic Manager

People with narcissistic tendencies often get into management positions. Maybe it’s because they are drawn to positions of power – maybe they’re just good at convincing others that they are the right person for the job. Whatever the reason, if you’re stuck with working for a narcissistic manager, it can be emotionally draining and eat away at your self-esteem. Being able to recognize the signs and implement some strategies for survival can save your sanity.

What is a Narcissistic Manager?

The literal definition of narcissism is “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself” but when it comes to management habits, it may be more recognizable as extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration. Sound familiar?

While most everyone occasionally displays narcissistic behavior, a severe obsession with self and a near-constant need for admiration can present challenges in the workplace. So what do you do when you’re expected to respect the needs and authority of a manager despite their extreme lack of empathy, inability to handle criticism, excessive need for admiration, and sense of entitlement? First, let’s make sure we’re diagnosing the problem correctly:

Signs You Have a Narcissistic Manager

Being able to spot the signs of a narcissistic manager can enable you to put strategies in place to counter the potential damage. Here are the typical things we encounter:

  • A need to control everything and everyone
  • Indifference to the feelings and needs of staff
  • Cultivation of “favorites” who will help further their own agendas
  • Unreasonable or exploitative demands that go far beyond the job description
  • Excessive display of awards or credentials
  • Refusal to allow others to share the spotlight or share the credit for a job well done
  • Reluctant to give praise unless it furthers their own agendas
  • Dominating meetings and claiming all the praise and attention
  • Putting others down or discrediting their work
  • Taking the credit for the ideas and hard work of others
  • Taking advantage of others (sometimes extreme)
  • Being sensitive to criticism
  • Refusing to take responsibility for outcomes and actions – always blaming something or someone else
  • An attitude that other people exist merely to further a narcissist’s purposes and help them get what they want
  • An inability to relate to others as equals – always as inferior or superior in some way
  • Using negative emotions against others to get their own way

How to Save Your Sanity at Work

If leaving is not an option, you need to put some strategies in place to help you cope at work. Spending your work hours with a narcissist is incredibly draining, and you might find that it affects your mental and physical health. Here are our tips to help you survive your boss:

  • Find ways of agreeing with your boss without being dishonest
  • Look for opportunities to give your boss genuine credit in front of others
  • Avoid situations where your opinion could be construed as criticism
  • Anticipate problems in advance by knowing your boss’s weaknesses
  • Be prepared to navigate around unreasonable expectations
  • If you must criticize, do it by appealing to your boss’s ego; for example, an outburst of temper makes him look bad in public
  • Cultivate a network of personal and professional relationships that can support you when you are doing it tough
  • Understand that your boss views relationships as objects to serve his or her purposes. Therefore, if she mistreats you or gives you negative feedback, it is more about her ego than it is about you. This knowledge can help you to guard your self-esteem.
  • Control your emotions. Responding to a narcissist with negative emotions can be a dangerous move. It could make you a target for rage, threats, sabotage, and the undermining of your professional profile.
  • Maintain your composure even when you feel like lashing out.

Working for a narcissist is no one’s dream. But if you find yourself with no choice, do your best to save your sanity and endure the situation with grace until you can make changes or leave the organization.

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