Working with a narcissistic can make your work life terrible with their constant manipulation, back stabbing, and seeking out ways to take you down. Here are the best ways to counter a narcissist at work
Don’t Go Outside Your Area of Responsibility or Expertise
The most important thing you can do, when you have to deal with a narcissistic coworker harassing you, is to cover yourself and “stay in your own lane.”
Narcissists constantly try to find things that they can use against you. At the work place this could be
- Bad calls you make
- Going outside of established procedure
- Small technical mistakes
- Overreaching your authority
When you limit your activity to exactly what is assigned to you, you limit the surface are that a narcissist has to attack you. While you may be a naturally responsible person who takes on a lot at your job, doing so only gives your narcissist coworker more ammunition to use against you.
Know Your Rights
Narcissists have no qualms with breaking the rules, stepping over personal boundaries, even committing crimes to attack their victims. So long as they don’t think that they well get caught.
When you are the target of narcissistic attacks, or even suspect that your coworker is a narcissist who may turn on you in the future, you need to take time to study your workplace procedures and rules, so you know where you can put your foot down.
Know who in your office is responsible for taking complaints and filing reports. Even if they don’t have the ability to discipline your narcissist, just having a third party record of their behavior is beneficial.
Be ware that your narcissist doesn’t have “an in” with the person who takes reports. Narcissist are great at getting bosses, HR people, and supervisors on their side. You may need to go outside the department, as reporting to a friend of the narcissist will usually backfire, rather than being a net benefit.
Keep Your Ego in Check
Most of the tactics a narcissist uses to control you rely on provoking an emotion response from you. The narcissist thrives on your ego reactions.
The best thing you can do in any encounter with a narcissist, or the work of a narcissist such as triangulation or rumor spreading, is keep you head. Try to be as calm and collected as you can.
This has two benefits —
- Prevents you from overreacting and making things worse
- Makes it more likely the narcissist will move on to a different target
Narcissists only attack you because they want some form of validation from you, what we call narcissistic supply. If they don’t get any reaction, good or bad, then they aren’t getting the supply the crave, and are likely to try getting it from somewhere else.
Try to Interact with a Narcissist in Public or Recorded Situations
A narcissist will tell you one thing in private, and then something completely different in public. They are also more likely to employ more ggressive and effective manipulation tactics against you.
Narcissists are very concerned about their public appearance. So, when they know their actions are being observed or recorded, then they will act their best self.
Also, having someone who can back you up in case the narcissist makes accusations against you is invaluable. Document and record as much as you can about any interactions you have with a narcissist coworker.
Choose Your Battles
Narcissists are constantly tough to deal with, and will try to get their way in almost every situation. It can be exhausting and dangerous to try to get in their way all the time.
The best thing you can do is go with the flow, and align your objectives so when the narcissist wins, you win. What I am talking about is setting goals, choosing assignments, and developing a professional strategy that, as much as possible, benefits when the narcissist gets their way.
Having such a strategy also informs you when the narcissist’s whims are too far from your plan. Allowing you to oppose the narcissist only on key issues.
Develop Your Compassion
One of the most effective ways to insulate your emotions from narcissistic attack is to develop your compassion. When you realize someone is sick, it is easier to forgive them for what they are doing to you. And, thus leave you in a more powerful emotional position.
Narcissists are generally thought to be the product of bad upbringing, either overly harsh or without enough support and discipline. This leaves the narcissist with a deep lack of self-worth. While they don’t often vocalize this, or even necessarily realize it directly, their self-centeredness and desired for approval is just a cover for this internal wound they have.
For a more in depth treatment of the development of narcissism, see this articles:
Don’t Confront the Narcissist
Usually, direct confrontation with a narcissist about what they are doing to you is not the most effective option. Narcissists don’t take critics, even well meaning criticism, in a constructive way.
By openly confronting a narcissist, you are making yourself the enemy in their fantasy narrative that they maintain about their own life. In this narrative, they are either the hero, or a poor victim of mean oppressors.
Better to allow them to be the hero, by lauding what they do that is good for you, and ignoring them or cutting off praise when the fall short. Make them seek out your approval, rather than worry about your wrath.
Avoid Telling the Narcissist Personal Information about Yourself
Narcissists use personal information, such as your —
- Likes and dislikes
- Family history
- Romantic activities
- Political views
— as little bits of ammunition that they store up for latter use.
While they are asking about them, your narcissist coworker may seem total engrossed by what you are saying, and entirely supportive. Only later, when they flip on you, will it be obvious how they intend to use this information to hurt you.
Don’t Get Taken in by the Flattery
Narcissists are experts at getting people to like them. At first, your narcissistic coworker may try to make you feel special. They will talk you up, and ask about what you like. This is called narcissistic love bombing:
Remember, that with a narcissist, it is all about them. They are flattering you as a way to flatter themselves, or as a way to get under your skin and make you ripe for additional manipulation in the future.
Always detach yourself from the praise. Remain humble. And avoid getting yourself in situations where the narcissist has occasion to love bomb you at all.
Keep a Low Profile and Avoid Contact with Narcissist Coworkers
Overall, the best possible strategy is not to engage with the narcissist coworker at all. Do whatever you can to avoid exposure to the narcissist.
- Avoid assignments with them
- Move offices or work stations
- Don’t eat where they eat
- Don’t hang out with the same people as they do
If you do have to work around a narcissist coworker, then it is best to keep a low profile, using the “grey rock” method. The jist of this method is to be as boring, and uninteresting as possible.
- Don’t have strong opinions or emotions.
- Only response noncommittally to questions.
- Have no hobbies, interests, or skills outside work
The better you pull this off, the less the narcissist will care about you at all. And, they will take themselves out of the picture for you.
How can you tell a narcissist at work?
A narcissist coworker will be extremely sensitive to critiques, never being able to admit they did wrong without blaming someone else. They are likely to be very self-centered and emotionally manipulative. Narcissist coworkers are generally well liked by bosses and upper management, but disliked by other employees or subordinates of theirs.