Do you have a co-worker or boss who makes your life miserable at work?
A person who dominates conversations, brags about accomplishments, and blames others for failures? A person who is charming, but doesn’t do any work to get the credit they feel they deserve?
A person who can’t take constructive criticism and who instead resorts to angry outbursts and verbally abusive behavior.
A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative and demanding. And while you can’t and shouldn’t assume a diagnosis of a co-worker or your boss, if you work with someone with these characteristics, you know it is incredibly difficult.
If you’re in this situation, it may seem like there’s no way out — that there’s nothing you can do. The good news is there are ways to deal with a narcissist at work — but it may require taking several deep breaths.
Boost Their Ego
Ugh. I know. This is probably the last thing you want to do when this person is making your life miserable.
But trust me: flattery, positive language, and compliments go a long way. Narcissists are incredibly insecure and needy: they crave constant reinforcement of their importance.
This doesn’t mean you have to lie. Dig deep and give a sincere compliment. Or it might help to think that you’re giving the compliment to make life easier for you and not this person causing the stress.
Hide Suggestions in a Compliment Sandwich
It’s hard and nearly impossible for a narcissist to hear criticism- even a simple suggestion can be misread as an insult. If you can, avoid critiquing or suggesting anything.
Yet, this might not be realistic- especially in a work environment. If you feel comfortable and/or must give feedback, try using a compliment sandwich: compliment-> critique and alternative suggestion->compliment.
For example: “I read your report and I really liked it and learned a lot. While funny, some of the language seemed a little harsh- you might try softening it a bit because I think most people will get distracted and miss out on your expertise. I wouldn’t want that!”
While this probably won’t completely eliminate a negative response, it might mitigate it — making life a little easier for you.
Find an Ally
Depending on your work situation, you most likely know other people who are working with this person too. You’re not alone in this.
There will probably be days were you just can’t find it in yourself to boost this person’s ego — so pass that task on to someone else.
Work together to come up with ways to support each other- and your difficult co-worker. Having a system in place creates a predictable environment for you and your co-workers, thus alleviating stress and frustration- and balancing the power out a bit.
Have an Outlet for Your Frustration
Let’s face it. You’re going to get frustrated- and most likely angry- having to deal with a narcissist on a day-to-day basis.
I know for me, I get infuriated I have to do all this extra emotional work when the person I’m accommodating does nothing. It just doesn’t seem fair.
And it isn’t.
For me, exercise really helps expend the negative energy that can build up when dealing with a difficult person. Sometimes it’s venting to a friend.
No matter what, make sure you’re taking care of yourself- whatever that means to you.
Jennifer Koza is a social worker who believes support and empowerment are key to life — and has the data to back it up. By day, she is a research and evaluation analyst, committed to preventing violence against women and studying the value of work and workplaces. By night, she is a painter — or at least she tries to be when she's not catching up on TV/movies (or re-watching The West Wing, Gilmore Girls or The Office).