Working with a narcissistic coworker

How To Protect Yourself When Working With A Narcissist


Narcissists can be charming, high-functioning professionals who leave you with a very positive first impression. They are often charismatic, hard-working, full of ideas, and able to infect others with their own enthusiasm. They can be great coworkers and team leaders in this regard, able to get work done, and push people to produce.

They will also manipulate, lie, and gaslight without any remorse in order to protect their own standing. Choosing to battle them is pointless because they’re not empathetic and don’t live by the same code of ethics as most of the world. Moreover, should you be on the receiving end of a narcissistic outburst of rage, you most likely won’t have it in you to match their rage, and you wouldn’t want to.

I‘m not talking about run-of-the-mill, everyday narcissism, the kind that produces Instagram selfies and Kardashians. It’s when it goes beyond, when it meets all the checkpoints for the DSM categorization for narcissism.

DSM-level narcissists are high functioning mentally ill people who are able to hold down jobs - often excelling at them - and assimilate into society because they don’t present as severely mentally ill. They’re not sitting on park benches in tattered clothing shouting at no one.

They are very skilled at discerning what drives you and manipulating it in their favor. If you show disloyalty, they will do what they can to make you think you are going to be destroyed in some form or another.


This is all of course to protect their own fragile sense of self, which was never fully formed. The narcissist behaves in a way that he/she believes will return the most attention to them. It is attention they need. They need to be seen constantly to feel like they exist, or they perish. If they suffer a wound, are made to feel vulnerable, or feel attacked in some way, they attack back in full force without relenting, until the other party surrenders.

At some point in your life and career you will most likely find yourself working alongside one, if you haven’t already. Navigating those waters is tricky, because you can get burned so easily by trusting them, lured into their world by golden promises, and worried about disappointing them for whatever reasons they’ve injected into your psyche.

It is pointless to argue or attempt to get them to come around and see your point of view. That will never happen. Your best bet is to skillfully avoid and / or navigate around them.

If you find yourself ensnared in the web of a narcissist, there are a few key points that will help maintain your own sanity.

Establish boundaries for yourself. You won’t necessarily realize it’s happening at first. You’ll simply be agreeing to do a favor as you would for anyone. Then one favor will lead to the next, until it becomes the norm and one day you wake up and realize these aren’t favors, you’re actually being taken advantage of, whether it’s your time, your talents, your connections, you name it.

If you feel a sense of discomfort at the onset that’s a gut instinct you shouldn’t ignore. It’s trying to tell you something. A narcissist will not respect your boundaries and may get upset if/when you refuse their request. But that’s their problem. Stay firm and resolute in your decisions. It’s not easy as they will pull and cling and try everything in their arsenal to win you back, but do your best not to acquiesce.

Don’t let your own ego send you into battle. When you realize the manipulation or are cheated in some way by the narcissist in your work life (and/or your personal life) you will want to give them a piece of your mind. I don’t recommend this. Or rather, do so to get something off your chest if you must, but do it without the expectation of being heard; also, expect retaliation and further manipulation to the point where you don’t remember what your point was, and you are once again somehow at fault.

Your best bet is to recognize the narcissism at play, and plan your boundary-setting. Control your own ego and your need to win. You can use these moments for personal growth by letting go of the need to be right or prove a point.

Don’t throw the word “narcissist” their way. In fact, you will probably be called a “narcissist” first. When they are accused of being narcissistic, it is likely to enrage them. 

Go to HR (if you have an HR Department) if behavior gets out of hand. Inappropriate, deceitful, or harmful behavior shouldn’t be condoned in an organization. If applicable, go through the official company channels to report misconduct.

Let them believe what they want. There’s no need to correct them if what they believe has no harmful effect on the company or individuals. This is where keeping your own ego in check comes into play. Watch out for your own feelings of superiority. Narcissists can be great mirrors, reflecting our own narcissistic tendencies back to us. 

Detach and let go of any need for them. Narcissists feed off of a need for them and their services, whatever they may be. If they sense that you need them they will exploit you by dangling things in front of you they think you want. You will most likely want them too.

If, however, you can let go of the promises the narcissist has made to you, let go of whatever down-the-line treasure they’ve assured you will be yours if you stick with them,  let go of needing them, their power diminishes greatly. They will try to win you back, they will fight to bring you back into the fold, accuse you of betraying them, of being ungrateful and selfish; but if you remember to stay detached and unemotional, you will come out on the other side.

As much as they may pull at your heart strings, they are not as emotionally attached as it appears. If you were to give in, you’d be emotionally attached and they’d be on to the next scheme, unaffected by the emotional display they just performed. 

If you have compassion for the mentally ill person on the bench talking to himself, have compassion for the narcissist too. Granted, it’s a lot easier to feel compassionate toward a mentally ill person who is talking to themselves and appears outwardly crazy and clearly can’t help themselves. It’s a lot harder to have compassion for someone who you might perceive as trying to ruin your life.

But if you can find some room in your mind to allow for some compassion to shine through, it will help everyone. They have a personality disorder and it is not curable. They would not be acting this way if they did not have this mental illness.

What might help is to remember that the narcissist most likely suffered some childhood trauma, some emotional bruise that made them turn a corner. Their egregious behavior is really a cry for love. Keep in mind there will never be enough love to fill the hole. That is why compassion is needed.

Also, it’s not always bad. Ambitious narcissists can open doors, rise up the various ladders of success and achieve great things. If you can manage to go along for the ride with expectations and boundaries in place, you can come out the other side as well. If you do choose to hitch your wagon to them: 

Be sure to get everything in writing!

The greatest gift a narcissist can give another is the chance to surrender your own ego. That may not sound wonderful on paper, but it leads to peace of mind. Since narcissists are all ego, they leave you no choice but to surrender your own. At first, we hold on and fight and cling, thinking this is the way to protect our reputation and our integrity. It’s a futile endeavor though, and ultimately leads to more internal, mental conflict for yourself.

By showing you how ugly egotistical behavior truly is, you can use it as a signpost for how not to be. There will surely be times in your life when your own narcissistic tendencies will rise to the surface. With self-awareness you can recognize them and steer yourself the other way. And you can thank the narcissist in your life for that gift.

6 Tips for Dealing With a Narcissist at Work, From a Psychotherapist

  • Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, author, and the host of "The Verywell Mind Podcast."
  • If you work with a narcissist, Morin says learning to manage your reactions to their behavior is crucial.
  • Ignore attention-grabs, stay calm, and focus on facts instead of feelings when discussing an issue.
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Listening to your coworker drone on and on in meetings about how great they are can become irritating fast. But long lectures from someone with a superiority complex won't be your only problem when you're dealing with a narcissistic person at work.

Not only will narcissists claim they're the best, they'll also insist they deserve the best. Whether they demand meetings are scheduled according to their preferences or they insist on getting the biggest office space, they'll urge everyone to give them special treatment. And they won't care who they hurt as they strive to advance their own careers. 

While you can't control a narcissist's behavior, you can control how you respond to them. Here are some of the best ways to deal with narcissistic people at work.

1. Stay calm

Losing your temper, yelling, or sending a rash email will only fuel a narcissist's behavior. They will gain great satisfaction from knowing they have the power to upset you.

A better approach is to stay calm. Show them that you're in control of your emotions and no matter how out of line they become, you're going to manage your behavior and act respectfully.

If you find yourself losing your cool, step away or take a few minutes to calm down before responding. When you're calmer, you'll be able to think more clearly, which is key to successfully addressing an issue.

2. Establish clear boundaries

Create healthy boundaries that limit the impact a narcissistic person can have on you. Whether that means you limit the amount of time everyone gets to speak in a meeting or you excuse yourself from listening to their monologues about their greatness, set limits on what you're willing to tolerate.

However, be prepared for a narcissistic person to cross the line. After all, they think they're the exception to every rule. You may need to follow through with a consequence when a boundary is violated.

You can say something like, "I told you I wasn't going to discuss this issue again today so I'm ending the conversation now. Feel free to put your concerns about not getting the corner office in an email." This will show that you're willing to stick to your limits when they test you.

3. Focus on the facts, not your feelings

You aren't going to get a narcissist to adjust their behavior by telling them that they've hurt your feelings. Not only will they not care, but they also won't understand. They lack empathy by nature, so focus on the facts.

Rather than say, "I'm frustrated that you want to keep talking about this," try, "We've been talking about this for 30 minutes and it's not going to change." 

Stay focused on their behavior, not your feelings or interpretation of what's going on. Sticking to the facts will keep conversations less emotionally charged.

4. Don't try to change them

A narcissist isn't going to change their behavior based on your feedback, so don't waste your time or energy trying to convince them to do things differently. 

Accept that they're going to brag sometimes and trust that they'll use people to get ahead. When you expect them to keep those behaviors up, you'll be less distressed when they continue to be narcissistic.

5. Ignore obnoxious behavior

Narcissists love attention, even when it's negative, so it's usually best to simply ignore their obnoxious behavior. 

When a narcissistic person exaggerates their accomplishments, arguing simply prolongs the discussion about how great they are. You may find changing the subject, walking away, or simply ignoring their comments not only preserves your energy for more important tasks, but it may also save you time.

6. Address abusive behavior

While it's good to ignore annoying behavior, abusive behavior should be addressed. If a narcissist puts you down or bullies someone in the office, take action.

Depending on the situation and your role, you'll need to decide what the best course of action is. You may address it directly if it's appropriate to do so or you may need to notify HR or a team leader about what's going on.

Managing your reactions

Despite the frustration you might feel when you work with a narcissist, there may be a few upsides, too. Often, they're good workers who take bold risks and are unafraid to point out potential pitfalls that others might overlook. So take a deep breath, work on managing your own emotions, and practice these steps to improve how you deal with a narcissist's air of superiority.

Features of working with a narcissist colleague


A narcissistic employee is a disaster for the team. He overly exaggerates his own importance, requires special treatment and increased attention, manipulates others and often sets his colleagues up. All the merits of the team are his, the key link in the company is him. This constant "me, me, me!" very nerve-wracking. How to deal with a narcissist? And is it possible to "re-educate" him?

A threat to the team

It is not necessary to recognize a narcissist in the team - he will announce it himself. Often such an individual can be seen (and heard) from afar.

Narcissus, according to Ilya Shabshin, counseling psychologist, leading specialist of the Volkhonka Psychological Center, is one of the most prominent figures in the team: in group photographs, he is almost always in the front row, in the center, in a beautiful pose, with a well-placed smile.

However, this "handsome" is able to complicate the life and workflow of both individuals and the whole team. Experts told what the presence of an overly narcissistic employee in the state is fraught with. nine0003

“Such a person wants to become better in the eyes of others, but not through long and painstaking work of self-improvement, but by trampling others into the dirt (in order to rise at the expense of their humiliation). He strives to be the center of attention and does not disdain by any means, including intrigues, manipulation, rumors, etc.,” says Helga Polivanova, psychologist at the Eltuitsia psychoportal.

“The narcissist is unpleasant to many: his egocentrism goes off scale, he puts his interests above the interests of other people, and sometimes the interests of the team as a whole, exaggerates his merits, is usually inattentive and unceremonious towards colleagues, capable of manipulation and juggling of facts” , — adds Ilya Shabshin. nine0003

Often such an employee is nothing as a specialist and cannot win the respect of his superiors. Therefore, he switches to the rest of the team, trying to gain recognition and admiration. What should colleagues of the narcissist prepare for?

“First of all, the colleagues of such an individual need to be prepared for the fact that they will be “feeled” in order to reveal a “weakness”, since a narcissist colleague is unlikely to risk asserting himself at the expense of a really strong opponent because of the banal fear of being planted in a puddle . As a rule, such a person can seek out a "victim" - a person due to banter over whom the narcissist will grow in his own eyes. Sometimes a narcissistic colleague can initiate collective bullying of the unfortunate. nine0003

Attempts at gross and inept manipulation are an essential attribute of the existence of this individual. Just like intrigues,” Helga Polivanova comments.

Be friends or fight?

How to communicate with such an employee? The explanation that the narcissist is not behaving in the best way is fraught with conflicts and intrigues aimed at whoever dares to show the "star" its place. Not communicating at all is also not the best option. The narcissist may go to extreme lengths to get attention. Perhaps you should establish a warm friendly relationship with him? nine0003

Helga Polivanova does not recommend making friends with narcissists: “The fact is that only a strong, mature and self-confident person can, by playing friendship with a narcissist through even more complex manipulation, make him not just “not an enemy”, but his puppet. Otherwise, letting such a person close to you, you can easily become his victim. Completely ignoring a narcissist is also a risky business, because for such a person there is no greater insult than ignoring.

I must say that the office is a fertile environment for a narcissist: there is an audience in front of which one can arrange demonstration performances. In addition, there are always weaker colleagues, due to which such an employee can assert himself. nine0003

The best way to communicate with narcissists, according to Helga Polivanova, is to keep a polite distance: “On the one hand, you need to understand that such a person, first of all, experiences really big psychological problems. Secondly, "daffodils" are, unfortunately, a part of our reality. On the other hand, you must be aware that you should not become a victim of it, even with good intentions.

Educational process

If the antics of a narcissist become more and more difficult to endure, it is worth trying to re-educate him. It is clear that instilling aspects of “correct” behavior in an adult is a rather thankless task. However, it is quite possible to influence the narcissist psychologically. Experts give several methods for neutralizing a narcissistic employee. nine0045
The “benevolent” method

“You need to look at the narcissist as objectively as possible and see behind the “husk” the Personality with its pain, which makes a person behave in this way, see the Personality with its virtues, dig out these very virtues and after completely sincerely praise the person for their manifestation. This is a very difficult path, because it is work on oneself, because you yourself need to see in the narcissist not an object of hostility, not an “overdressed peacock and a complete idiot,” but a personality, ”says Helga Polivanova. nine0003

“In order to understand how not to be angry with a narcissist and communicate constructively with him, you need to look at him ... with love. And then you can see in him a little boy or girl, trying very hard to show off, to be noticed, to get recognition. Such an “extended” view of a person, although not completely impassive, removes useless irritation with the indefatigable “show off” of a narcissist,” adds Ilya Shabshin.

The “carrot” method

“You can praise a colleague-narcissist for something - and immediately pay attention to something important, emphasize the positive aspects of his work - and express confidence that he will brilliantly correct the shortcomings, and etc. When entrusting a narcissist with some business or agreeing with him about something, it is important, of course, to emphasize his own benefit, that is, to clearly show why he himself needs to do this. Moreover, which is very important, the benefits must be significant in the narcissist's value system (otherwise nothing will work), and for him, as already mentioned, the attention and recognition of people is of paramount importance. Of course, no one canceled the importance of material incentives, but just for a narcissist, for example, publicly expressed gratitude can be a great incentive, ”recommends Ilya Shabshin. nine0003

Whip method

“This method is rather crude. To apply it, you must have a significant authority in the eyes of a narcissist, otherwise the result will be disastrous. You need to firmly (but not aggressively) say what exactly you are not satisfied with in the behavior of a colleague, what negative consequences this can lead to and what benefits he will receive if he changes his behavior at least a little, ”advises Helga Polivanova.

There are pluses too!

Narcissus, despite all his eccentricity, can be very successfully used for business purposes. nine0003

Ilya Shabshin says that people of this type have a gift for making a good first impression: “The brightest (not deep in content, but bright) presentations, the most enchanting public performances are made by narcissists. And a competent leader can use these abilities of a narcissist to the benefit of the entire team, sending such an employee to business negotiations with a new partner, instructing him to speak to the target audience to talk about the company's services, advertise the product, report on successes, etc. nine0003

A narcissistic colleague is not the worst thing in a team. With a competent approach, it is quite possible to conduct a constructive dialogue with him and even work effectively.

Ilya Shabshin shared an example from his own consulting practice: “The boss, exhausted by the antics of her narcissistic subordinate, who could not be fired, came up with a separate position for her, printed beautiful business cards and handed them to her at a team meeting. The result exceeded all expectations: the lack of attention and recognition was filled, the employee got what her narcissistic nature required, as a result of which she became much more friendly and affable to communicate with colleagues and work much more productively. Previously, this could not be achieved by any "showdowns" and exhortations. nine0003

How to work with obnoxious colleagues. Part one. Daffodils

Irina Balmanji

“This man is terrible. How can you work with him at all? A real jerk!" Each of us has said or thought something like this at some time. Especially for those who have to endure obnoxious colleagues, professor of psychiatry Jodie Foster has compiled a detailed guide "Assholes under control." nine0003

The purpose of the book is to explain the reasons for the behavior of such people and show how to contact them in order to reduce the degree of tension. The author urges you to use this information only for peaceful purposes, and not for making offensive diagnoses. Treat colleagues with sympathy and understanding, try to make communication as fruitful as possible.

And now let's get acquainted with the world of eccentrics. Let's start with narcissists - the main candidates for "nuts" at work. These are emotional, defiant, eccentric, self-centered and unpredictable people. But what lies behind the mask of self-confidence? nine0003

Who are narcissists

We need faith in ourselves and our abilities to dream, plan for the future, set goals and achieve them. But an over-inflated ego is extreme. Surely you have met people who are completely unable to take criticism, obsessed with themselves, arrogant, arrogant and smug.

Narcissus gives the impression of a person who is confident in his superiority over the rest. He always talks only about himself, his merits and achievements, he is not interested in other people. Considering himself underestimated, he is always waiting for praise, asking for compliments and trying to get others to finally recognize his outstanding qualities. nine0003

The narcissist can talk endlessly about himself: "I did this", "I have this", "I'm going to buy something". He seems to be calling: "Pay attention to me!" Source

Sometimes narcissistic employees become completely uncontrollable: they can insult colleagues, raise their voices, throw objects in fits of anger and not feel any guilt.

All the actions of such people are aimed at inflating self-esteem. By putting others down, they feel more important. By blaming others for their failures, they get rid of doubts about their own competence. Narcissists can't bear the thought of being wrong about anything. nine0003

Strange as it may seem, this pattern of behavior is formed on the basis of strong self-doubt. Imagine what a narcissist's childhood could have been like. Probably, status and achievement were most valued in his family. Parents set the bar too high for him, constantly criticized him for not meeting the ideal, and forgot about the most important thing - emotional support for the child.

Deep down, narcissists are very vulnerable. Their behavior is a defensive reaction that allows them to preserve their fragile self-esteem and emphasize their own importance. They are afraid that they will not live up to expectations and turn out to be not so wonderful at all. Hence the sharp rejection of any criticism, belittling other people's merits, touchiness, outbursts of rage and the desire to be in the spotlight. nine0003

No matter how confident they look, their behavior does not bring them joy. Internal struggle, dissatisfaction, emptiness - that's what they live with.

The narcissist can attribute to himself the successes that the whole team has achieved, and, on the contrary, shift the blame for failures to others. He is able to quickly climb the career ladder, as he easily convinces everyone of his professionalism. But working with such a boss is incredibly difficult. In a leadership position, he behaves as if there are only two points of view: his and the wrong one. nine0003

A narcissistic leader may yell, intimidate, violate job descriptions, behave unfairly. He is sure that he has every right to do this - source

In the pursuit of high status, the narcissist can curry favor with the leadership and in all ways achieve the favor of influential people. For the same reason, he breaks off old acquaintances if he considers that they harm his reputation (for example, having received a promotion, he stops dining in the company of former colleagues).

Hostility, arrogance and arrogance are traits common to most narcissists. But sometimes narcissistic people show themselves in a completely different way. For example, they spend a lot of time making friends with colleagues. However, their goal is still the same - to endlessly inflate their own self-esteem. They too obsessively seek the sympathy and approval of others, try to please everyone, constantly talk about themselves and wait for assurances of their impeccability. The problem is that this behavior annoys everyone. nine0003

How to deal with narcissists

So what do you do if you recognize your colleague in this description? There are several strategies to reduce stress when working with a narcissist:

1. Do not skimp on compliments, praise this person, celebrate virtues and achievements, emphasize his importance. Of course, without any irony. By fueling the narcissist's ego, you can avoid insults and sudden outbursts of anger from him. Be prepared for concessions. Remember: such a colleague is able to turn into hell the life of anyone who dares to object to him. nine0003

2. If you want to reprimand or ask him for something, wrap your words in a compliment. For example, this can be a reminder of deadlines: “I can’t wait until Thursday to finally see your presentation! You must have a lot of interesting ideas.” Or to hint at inappropriate behavior: “Your speech was very informative. You've laid everything out nicely. But maybe you shouldn't have called all of your colleagues' questions stupid. It offends people and prevents them from perceiving the important information that you want to convey to them. nine0003

When communicating with a narcissist, it is necessary to soften criticism with something positive, otherwise he will see in your words only an insult and a threat to his self-esteem.

3. Pay more attention to him. Do not forget to wish him good morning and a good weekend, because the lack of interest in his person can also be perceived as an insult. Also, respond immediately to his requests. Ignoring a letter from a narcissist or not going into his office at the first call is a sure way to ruin a relationship with him. No matter how annoying you are that you are forced to indulge him, it is better than to endure harassment, humiliation and other vengeful antics later. nine0003

Keep your emotions in check and try to avoid spontaneous reactions when dealing with a narcissist.

4. Take care. No matter how good your relationship is, the narcissist will easily set you up for their ambitious goals. Do everything to protect yourself from such troubles. For example, if you want to share your ideas with him, invite a third party to discuss - this way you can protect your copyrights.

5. Although the narcissist is not interested in the emotions of others, try to explain to him how he affects people. It is important not to blame him, but to say something like: “Can you imagine how she felt at the moment when you called her an empty head? What if someone told you so? Offer to look at the situation through the eyes of another person. This sometimes works, especially if you insert a remark between pleasantries. nine0003

6. Show the narcissist that no one expects perfection from him. It can be noted that he is engaged in a really complex project. At the same time, it is important not to single him out from the team and not give him reason to feel underestimated. For example, say casually: “We are all a little nervous about these deadlines. Personally, I worry that I won’t be able to cope with everything.” Hearing such a phrase, he will experience relief and weaken his self-defense.

7. Try moving the narcissist to a position that involves short-term contact with people. He can be quite successful in sales and consulting where there is a steady stream of clients. For him, this is better than being surrounded all the time by those who every day have to endure his terrible character.

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