For many years, I worked directly with a narcissistic boss who made my life heck. Eventually, I developed these techniques to overcome his narcissistic personality. Here is how I manipulated my narcissistic boss.
Narcissistic bosses are easily manipulated through tactics like “narcissistic dog training,” narcissist mirroring, withholding personal information, knowing when to avoid conflict, and setting your goals wisely.
Attempting to manipulate an narcissist can be a slippery slope, where you eventually begin to emulate their bad qualities yourself. This list of top XX ways to manipulate your narcissistic boss is specifically chosen so that you can get out of the situation with your morality intact.
Manipulate Narcissist Bosses by Finding Out How They Tick
The first and probably most important step is to really understand exactly how narcissism manifests in your boss’s psyche. There are four primary forms of narcissism —
- The classic / grandiose narcissist
- The vulnerable / covert narcissist
- The malignant narcissist
- The communal narcissist
Each of them can present in very different ways, and require a different finesse when dealing with. For instance, a vulnerable or covert narcissist will seek to avoid positions of responsibility to avoid criticism. While a classic narcissist will actively seek visible authority while deflecting blame to his subordinates.
Also, it can be easy to mistake a narcissist for another condition, which would make this advice mute.
For more information on each type of narcissist, and how to spot them, check out my previous articles below —
- Signs of a Narcissist | 21 Behaviors of the Classical Narcissist
- Tell-Tale Signs of a Covert Narcissist | A Fool Proof Test
- How to Recognize a Malignant Narcissist | In Plain English
User Your Boss’s Narcissism Against Them with “Narcissistic Dog Training”
The most important thing to know about how a narcissist ticks, is that they live off of external validation, and cannot or will not accept any form of criticism. This makes narcissistic boss’s extremely susceptible to flattery.
With this in mind, we can use this pain point as a form of narcissistic Achilles’ Heel.
The best way to manipulate a narcissistic boss is to withhold praise and positive feedback when they are acting poorly, and to provide copious amounts of public praise when they act the way that you like.
I call this dog training because the way you teach a dog is by rewarding them when they are going in the right direction or doing the right thing. And slowly, they learn what we like and do it immediately with little or no provocation in the hopes of getting a treat.
In just the same way, if we are firm and consistent with our inputs, our boss will learn to treat us better in change for the treat they desire.
How to Reward You Narcissistic Boss When They Treat You Well
- Credit them when you succeed in a public way
- Compare yourself negatively to them, “I’m just not a good at … as you are.”
- Be happy to see them, even to the point about being over the top
- Ask them for tips and advice
- Accept their critics and criticism thankfully
How to Withdraw Rewards When Your Narcissistic Boss Is Acting Purely
- Acknowledge someone else — “the team”, your boss’s boss, etc — for success
- Avoid unnecessary interaction
- Act bland and emotionless around them
- Accept criticism calmly with no comment and minimal appropriate response
I caution against trying to “punish” or blame your boss if they don’t follow your expectations, as provoking them is usually a dangerous proposition. Instead, just withhold positive feedback, and remain indifferent and aloof when they are not acting the right way.
Avoid Providing Personal Information to Your Narcissistic Boss
Another prime component of the narcissistic personality is their willingness and ability to manipulate people emotionally. Narcissistic bosses are extremely adept at figuring out what makes you proud and what you are ashamed of. And, they are extremely adept and leveraging it against you.
The crux of this strategy is to provide no personal, non-work related information at all, while keeping a friendly and supportive demeanor.
If the narcissist boss suspects that you are actively trying to distance yourself from them, then it may make them dislike you or come at you harder. In order to make this work, you should practice being natural and open in your workplace environment while not volunteering personal tidbits.
Ways to avoid personal conversation —
- Ask the narcissist about themselves or topics that you know that they love talking about
- Provide non-committal answers with no specifics
- Ramble a bit without actually answering the question
- Respond the same way that they would (see mirroring below)
- Avoid conversation during times when personal talk would be appropriate
OF course, there are times that you will eventually have to give something away without it seeming strange. But the more you can stick to the plan, the less likely your narcissistic boss will be able to manipulate you.
Employ Narcissistic Mirroring Tactics Against Your Boss
One great way to curry favor with your boss, resolve conflicts, and help maintain your internal calm is through narcissistic mirroring.
The essence of the narcissistic mirroring strategy is as follows —
- Remain calm when they insinuate or attack you
- Take a moment to consider what they say
- Acknowledge what they said, making essentially the same statement using their same work choice and tone of voice — don’t apologize
- Assume a similar body posture and tone of voice, except reduce the level of aggression one level below theirs
- Wait for them to speak again, and go back to step 1
While the first step is easier said than done, it is an essential skill to cultivate, since you have no control over the outcome of a situation of you are overcome by emotions. And, it is these types of negative emotions that narcissistic bosses use to manipulate you.
For a mindset that helps you maintain calm in the face of a storm of narcissism, check out my previous post —
Why does narcissistic mirroring work against narcissistic bosses?
The theory behind narcissistic mirroring is that you are subconsciously sending them the signals that they have won. Matching their behavior is soothing and fills them with feelings of safety that our neurology evolved to make us feel good when we are part of an accepting group.
Another key point is that we are not agreeing to the facts of their claims against us. Neither are we acknowledging that they are right to be angry with us.
Instead, we are just repeating back that we hear and understand their position, by restating it. For example —
- Boss: I can’t believe that you …
- You: I can see that your irritated that I …
- Boss: But, why don’t you stop doing …?
- You: I understand that you want me to stop …, and I’ll do my best to stop.
Additionally, do not attempt to argue them down, even politely, and do not deflect their rage with praise. Any attempt to fight back would be seen as an attack, and just exacerbate the situation. Likewise, praise may distract them, but is likely to train them to keep coming at you. See narcissistic dog training above.
Conflict with a narcissistic boss is likely to be a battle of wills rather than a battle of wits. You can’t convince them they are wrong, you can only maintain a proper posture and wait for them to blow themselves out.
Take Steps to Avoid Narcissistic Conflict with Your Boss
While the exact causes are not universally accepted, many psychologists believe narcissists are created because of difficult childhood experiences.
So, while we still have to deal with their crap, and take steps to protect ourselves, it isn’t right or beneficial to think less of narcissists because of their lack of proper development.
With that in mind, employees of narcissistic bosses need to guard their mind from the aggression of their employer. By cultivating a truthful perception that the narcissist — no matter how big or powerful they seem — is really just a dejected child inside, we are able to withstand their onslaught with poise.
Additionally, it is wise to take steps logistically to avoid situations when you are likely to come in to conflict with your narcissistic boss.
With my narcissistic bosses, I noticed that there were certain times of day when they ewre more likely to come looking for a fight. So, I found ways to be busing during those times. I would also avoid special assignments and tasks that were likely to reflect poorly on the bosses, if I felt there was a risk I couldn’t do them perfectly to their satisfaction.
Assert Power Over Narcissism by Focusing on Your Development over Your Boss’s
While it is often times sad to see the life that narcissistic boss creates form themselves, you are in no position to try to help them or rescue them.
As an employee, it is paramount that you put your own self interests above your boss’s. This may seem very hard at times, especially for agreeable people who tend to be more susceptible to narcissistic manipulation.
Here are some tips to make sure you are not taken advantage of by your narcissistic boss —
- Consult with somebody that you trust, who is good at getting what they want, about your situation
- Take time to identify your personal and professional goals
- Identify your boundaries to yourself — ethical, moral, etc — and do not cross for any reason
- Document your own professional accomplishments
- Find allies in the office who also see your boss is a narcissist
- Keep an updated resume, and keep an eye out for other opportunities away from your narcissistic boss — both in the company and out
Remember that no job is worth comprising your integrity, no matter how important it seems in the moment.
Leverage Narcissism by Aligning Your Boss’s Success with Your Own
Narcissists are extremely persuasive and able to get what they want out off others. That means as long as you must work for them, it is best to align your goals with their desires, instead of trying to paddle upstream.
In particular, I’m taking about figuring out a win-win possibility, when you can both get ahead if you succeed. And, where you are not stealing any of the limelight from your boss at the same time. Ideally, your narcissistic boss would have no idea that you both won.
As an example, in one job I had, the boss became emotionally invested in the idea that non-sales people should take on a sales role. That meant I would have to start selling, or be on his bad list. He emotionally invested in the idea and did everything he could to prove that he was right.
So, while I was not personally interested in becoming a sales person, I recognized the opportunity and negotiated a nice sales percentage for myself. In the end, I was able to make quite a bit more money than I otherwise would have, with the hurricane like force of my narcissistic boss’s will behind me, and learn a skillet I never thought I would possess.
And, the boss was happy with me because I was proof of his own success.
Of course, you should never cross ethical or moral boundaries, even if that is a part of aligning to your boss’s goals. You will have to accept a certain amount of push back from your boss when you refuse to do so, and should have a pack up plan in place should the fallout be too severe.
How do you outsmart a narcissistic boss?
First, avoid proving them with personal information that they can use against you. Secondly, train them by leveraging their psychological need for external validation. Only give them good feelings when they do what you want, and keep your interactions neutral all other times.
How can I manipulate a narcissist?
A narcissist can be easily manipulated through the fact that they crave validation from others. Start by giving the narcissist good feelings with praise and excitement when they are around. When they are acting good, keep it up. But, when they are acting badly withdraw emotionally by being cool and professional.