Narcissism, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, is almost as difficult to deal with in the workplace as it is in a family or intimate relationship. The most difficult situation is when your boss is a narcissist, because not only are you forced into close contact with your boss every day, but you depend on him for your income.
When your boss is unpredictable, self-centered, and easily irritable, you may develop something like PTSD when you go to work every day. You are terrified of being insulted, shamed in front of colleagues, neglected for opportunities, or even fired. Fortunately, though, there are ways to deal with the narcissistic boss that can allow you to survive and even thrive at work.
Moderate your expectations
Your boss may not care if you’re sick and won’t remember your wedding is in June. Nor will he be sorry for calling you at 9 pm on a Friday night. Don’t keep expecting him to have limits or reasonable requests. This strategy doesn’t mean you have to go along with irrational requests. However, if you acknowledge and accept that irrational requests continue to be made, you will end up feeling less stressed and angry.
Treat your boss how he wants to be treated (within reasonable limits)
This tactic doesn’t mean rushing to get him a cup of coffee every time he asks but taking careful note of how your boss represents himself to you and others. If, for example, your boss considers himself a high-level guy, don’t suggest setting up a meeting at Starbucks. Propose a high-level meeting place.
The more you pretend to see your boss for who he tries to be, the easier it will be for you.
Remember the details of his personal life
Most co-workers don’t expect you to know their children’s names, but a narcissistic boss will never forgive you if you don’t remember little Susie’s name – and that she really likes tennis. If your memory isn’t great, write notes on a document so you can remember the details.
Don’t accuse your boss of not doing something or doing something wrong. Instead of saying, “You didn’t tell me you wanted that presentation for today,” say, “I’m sorry, I thought it was Tuesday.” While you may think that admitting mistakes will give your boss more ammo to later criticize your performance, it’s much better than being defensive. Narcissists will rarely admit that they were wrong, so don’t try – explicitly or implicitly – to make your boss acknowledge his own mistake.
Don’t complain to co-workers unless they’re close friends
Narcissists retain power by alternately being very kind and very bad. The same colleague who complained to you about your boss’s narcissism on Monday may be spying if the boss invites him for lunch on Tuesday. It may be tempting, but don’t gossip about your own boss. Save your outburst for friends, family, or a therapist.
These tips may only help you for a while, depending on the toxicity level of the situation. You don’t have to stay in the position you are in, and going over your boss’s head to complain could have bad consequences. Of course, if there is actual harassment or abuse going on, report it. But if your main problem is your boss’s narcissistic personality, it won’t change anytime soon. If you can’t or don’t want to deal with him in the long term, it makes sense to explore other potential opportunities in your area of work.
Hopefully, some of these points apply to your situation. Remember, your mantra must be: “Accept that your boss will not change, and make your life as easy as you can.” Letting a narcissistic boss ruin your day – or life – isn’t right for you!