Article: Dealing with a narcissist boss

Employee Relations

Dealing with a narcissist boss

Obsessed by self-interest, these bosses have little time for the feelings of others. In fact, they routinely disregard the feelings of others and have little ability to feel empathy. Read more on how to tackle them.
Dealing with a narcissist boss

Narcissism is an extreme form of self-admiration and self-love.  Narcissists typically suffer from a bloated ego.  They think they are imbued with muscles of iron and nerves of steel—or simply, a cut above the rest of the ordinary mortals.  They belong to what is called as ‘high-status’ group. They are good at exaggerating their achievements and talents.   They blow their horn constantly.   They are generally arrogant and want to have an unfair share of the cake always.   They want to grab anything and everything that help boost up their image.  They require constant attention & admiration and would love to be surrounded by yes men who are prepared to chant mantras in praise of the boss with or without reason.  They are not prepared to listen or willing to take criticism lightly.  In fact, they react to criticism with rage, shame or humiliation.  Any negative remark is taken as a personal attack or affront or a kind of slap on the face.  They use people for their own self-aggrandizement and primarily to achieve their own selfish goals.  Obsessed by self-interest, they have little time for the feelings of others.  In fact, they routinely disregard the feelings of others and have little ability to feel empathy.  The inflated sense of their own importance comes in the way of treating colleagues fairly.  Dealing with a pathological narcissist is not an easy job unless you go deep into their mental make-up and formulate a strategy to handle the stress appropriately and decide to call it a day. 

Insensitive to Employees:  A narcissist does not care for what you feel or want.  There is disdainful disregard for others’ feelings and needs. he believes that he knows everything about any topic and is always right.  He is self-centered and is totally disinterested in learning about anything from others.   He refuses to see merit in whatever you think or say or feel.  He is not willing to treat you as an individual. He has very little, or no ability, to feel empathy for others.  He deliberately treats people badly and, hence, finds it difficult to build long-lasting relationships.  Empathy, after all, is essential to build healthy interpersonal bonds.  If you lack empathy, you are compelled to burn bridges and destroy relationships routinely.  A narcissist, more dangerously,  is hell bent on exploiting you for personal errands of various kinds—without rewarding the extra effort put in by you.  He simply uses the subordinate for meeting his own personal ends and does not even bother to acknowledge the same. 

Name & Status Dropper:  A narcissist boss wears arrogance on his sleeves.  He has a nasty habit of name and status dropping. He wants to constantly showcase the prestigious degrees that he has, the multifarious awards that he obtained spilling blood on paper, the innumerable trophies on the shelves, status photos, or other images of heroic achievements to his credit.  There is a compelling urge to portray himself as an outstanding guy, straight from the moon He is constantly haunted or even blinded by a raging urge to put himself in a superior position when compared to poorly qualified human beings who happen to exchange notes with him.  He suffers from a false sense of superiority that literally comes in the way of treating subordinates as equitable human beings. 

Spotlight Hogger:  A narcissist suffers from a grandiose sense of self-importance.  He constantly seeks approval, acknowledgement, kudos, accolades & praise from others and wants to be the prime center of attraction. He grabs every opportunity to dominate meetings, presentations, phone conversations and even email exchanges.  There is always a heavy downpour of crazy and stupid ideas coming straight from the heart that do not stand the test of sanity.  But the narcissist boss thinks otherwise. In the mad rush to project his own ideas as valuable and worth considering, he would bulldoze every other viewpoint ruthlessly. He wants to prove the point time and again that he is more powerful and influential than anyone else in the organization. The same haughty behaviour compels many a narcissist to break rules and indulge in unethical practices.  He is prone to take shortcuts to prove a point—riding over people and the system.

Steals credit:  Narcissists steal credit away from subordinates.  They do not see any merit, whatsoever, in what others do.  They do not want to dilute their star power by giving credit to others while delivering results.  On those rare occasions when they generously come forward to praise you a little bit, they do so because they want something more from you.  Even when you clearly outrun your rivals in the organization, they simply try to look the other way—saying that it is only because of their towering leadership qualities that you were able to get things done. For any reason whatsoever, if your performance is getting noticed or recognized—the narcissist will go to any extent to diminish your worth. The rule is simple: if you cannot grow bigger, try to pull others down through manipulation or maneuvering.  There is also a nagging tendency to shamelessly steal the credit away from a worthy subordinate whenever the opportunity comes.  You may try your luck by trying harder and harder to gain their approval, which they will never give. Nothing you do will ever be good enough—you will never feel as though you have lived up to expectations.   In fact, all such childish attempts will backfire—because it will only make them feel jealous of your work and force them to push you away from important assignments. Come what may, they always want a disproportionate share of the cake—and have all the glory for themselves.

Blames others for Failures:  When it comes to failure, narcissists blame the poor subordinates for everything.  They are not prepared to remain accountable and accept blame for not delivering results.  In fact, the very mention of failure might trigger the narcissistic rage.  They do not have the heart to accept any kind of negative feedback—howsoever justifiable or reasonable it could be—that threatens their fragile ideological self-image.  To cover up their own insecurities, narcissists go to the extent of disrobing a subordinate in front of others and blame the hapless victim for everything.  To gain attention and feel powerful, they keep you insecure and off-balance.  Whenever you fail to meet expectations, they grab the opportunity to judge, criticize and ridicule in front of others—violating all rules of civilized behavior.  They “try to be tall by simply cutting off the heads of others” 

Pathological liar: A Narcissist could look you in the eye and tell you a complete and outlandish lie without blinking.  They are good at cooking crazy stories—many a time offering clinical evidence—and seek admiration from their ‘yes men’ every now and then.

Hang on or jump out

Narcissists cannot be changed.  They stick to their guns and unprepared to change their style.  They talk and talk and unwilling to listen.  They become razing bulls at the slightest provocation.  If you say ‘No’ to anything, then you have certainly pulled the pin on the grenade If you go one step further and criticize the narcissist boss for perfectly valid reasons, then you are certainly digging your own grave.  He would make your life miserable in the next performance review.  You may even be bombarded with impossible deadlines which compel you to seek shelter elsewhere or book a seat in a nearby mental asylum.  Dealings with a narcissist will never be smooth and spontaneous.  There will be rough patches that you need to cross on a daily basis and you are constantly pushed to ‘limits’. It is like raising a tiger cub in a cat’s womb.  Life can be pretty tough if you decide to stay on and unprepared to terminate the excruciatingly painful marriage.  The survival strategies, listed below, may or may not work—because narcissists are notoriously fickle minded and do not stand by what they speak or write.

Don’t challenge them directly:  Never commit the cardinal sin of telling narcissists that you do not agree with their opinions. Also, make sure not to break any bad news—about how bad things are going. That’s nothing short of committing suicide.  The collateral damage can be huge.  They turn cruel and get into a maniac depressive mood and begin the shouting game that would leave you completely shattered---a kind of an emotional bloodbath where only the insane will survive.  You should find a way to disagree.  And at least here there are no text-bookish solutions that are going to save your day. 

Don’t compete with them:  Narcissists want to win always.  They are born to win.  Do not ever dare to tell them that you have worked hard to deliver results.  That would be an open invitation to trouble.  You should always be prepared to give them the credit for having shown a way or given useful tips or constructive suggestions—even if you have not received any—while trying to complete the assignment successfully.  Forget about any credit coming your way—you will never get it.  Instead try to copiously praise the boss (preferably openly, in front of everyone) for the great advice and guidance provided that ensured the success of the assignment. A little sugar goes a long way.  Narcissists like to be praised and you should be willing to give them their due at all times.  Otherwise, they will make your life hell.  When things go wrong, you should become the sacrificial lamb.  Narcissists never accept the blame for any damn thing in the office.  It must be someone else’s fault. 

Don’t break their rules:  Narcissists can never be friends.  They are extremely self- centered and seek gratification every moment.  Working with them could be pretty exhausting or even back-breaking—because there are no rules to live by.  Life can turn out to be taxing if you do not set clear boundaries. Make it a point not to cross those limits at any point in official dealings.  You never know when the winds take a different direction.  You may get undercut at any time.  So be vigilant and have the discipline to record every conversation and keep email trail scrupulously to avoid embarrassing moments cropping up anytime.  Learn to document goals and timelines, seek clarifications in writing and make sure your thinking is aligned to the boss’s almost always.  There will be tough moments where you need to maintain your cool and stay calm.  When the boss is upset for right or wrong reasons, you need to keep your mouth shut and never open up till the blame game stops.  He will always be in a complaining mode when things go off the track a little bit.  Become the scapegoat and swallow your pride—if any traces of self-esteem are still left.  For any reason whatsoever, if you think enough is enough and you can’t take it anymore—then stand up for yourself and put an end to this messy game of mutual recrimination and shifting of blame.  Have the courage to call a spade a spade.  Once you lose all respect for the boss, there’s no looking back.  Good luck then!

Further Readings:
· Blackburn, Simon, Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014)
· Brown, Nina W., Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-up's Guide to Getting over Narcissistic Parents (2008)
· Brown, Nina W., The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (1998)
· Golomb, Elan, Trapped in the Mirror – Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self (1995)
· Payson, Eleanor, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (2002)
· Ronningstam, Elsa F., Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality (2005)
· Shaw, Daniel, Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation (2013)
· Thomas David, Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)
· Twenge, Jean M.; Campbell, W., Keith The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009)
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Topics: Employee Relations, Leadership Assessments, Life @ Work

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