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Dealing with narcissism at work

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Narcissism at work can be extremely difficult to handle. If you have to deal with someone who exploits you, belittles you, criticizes you, only talks about themselves and will metaphorically stab you in the back as soon as look at you, you may well be dealing with a narcissist. We’ve all seen Donald Trump in action and the impact he has had.

True narcissists are thankfully quite rare with the prevalence in the general population estimated between 0.5- 1%. Narcissistic personality traits are more common though, and can be found in many individuals resulting in the perception of narcissism at work. You probably know someone that is domineering, seeks attention and cares little about the impact of their behaviour. Narcissistic tendencies can also lead to people presenting quite a charming, persuasive front but this is more likely to be manipulation. 

Typical signs of a narcissists:

  • Believe themselves to be special
  • Have a strong sense of entitlement
  • Demonstrate a grossly inflated sense of self importance
  • Are preoccupied with their own success
  • Have a need for excessive praise and admiration
  • Lack empathy
  • Can’t take criticism, though heavily criticise others

We cannot always choose who we work with and if you are in the unfortunate position of having to deal with narcissism at work, self-preservation is key.

One thing to realise when working with narcissistic traits is to accept you are never going to change them. No amount of feedback, coaching or re-direction will have any impact whatsoever.

Here are a few things you can do to minimise the impact narcissism at work.

  • Have confidence in your own abilities and document your achievements.
  • If working on the same project, ensure you update your manager along the way with what you have achieved. So, at the end of the project, your manager knows how much you have contributed and won’t be manipulated by your narcissistic colleague who will try to minimise your efforts.
  • Avoid and limit time with them if at all possible.
  • Write everything down. Any instructions you are given, ensure to get them emailed to you so you have hard evidence which will avoid you being scape-goated. Written records of negative interactions can also be used down the track to show to management if things become untenable.
  • When you have moments of fun working with them, compliment their behaviour. Not only will this feed their ego, it might bring about repetition.
  • Present options rather than conclusions. They like room to manoeuvre rather than being tied down to someone else’s thinking.
  • Where possible, make sure at least one other person is with you. Narcissists are often at their most deadly when they have you alone – no witnesses, no records.
  • Keep your private life, private. Do not share personal vulnerabilities or personal information.  You want to avoid giving a narcissist information about yourself they can use against you later.  It is best to maintain a detached yet friendly surface level relationship with this person and find emotional support elsewhere.
  • Be prepared to leave, especially if the narcissist is your direct manager.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself if you stay. Recognise you might not receive the support and advocacy you need to succeed in your own right.

Working in an environment where narcissism at work exists can be very draining, distressing and can leave you second guessing yourself, so focus on what you can control, and ensure you get the time you need to recharge at the end of the day.

For training on Dealing with difficult people at work contact JEM Training.

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JEM Management Training

JEM Management Training designs and delivers flexible, in-house management training courses to help  organisations in Perth engage their staff fully in the workplace.

As time is often limited, JEM Training offers flexible half-day management training courses which focus on a specific area of management expertise. These short courses build upon each other over a period of time, chosen by you, to provide ongoing management development.

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