5 Steps to Handle a Narcissistic Boss

By Amy Cooper Hakim - May 29th, 2017

Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., is an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert. She is a speaker, author, and the executive consultant and founder of The Cooper Strategic Group. She helps employees and employers to get along better, and coaches leaders and employees to improve productivity, morale, satisfaction, and overall work-life balance. Her book, Working with Difficult People, provides clear strategies to effectively handle the ten types of difficult bosses, colleagues, and subordinates. The book recently hit #1 in sales at Amazon for Business Etiquette books and was highlighted in Parade Magazine. Dr. Hakim has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Fast Company, CNBC Make It, Inc., Bustle, The List, and Star-Telegram. She has also been a guest on the KRTH Morning Show, Think KERA Radio, the WBEZ Morning Shift, the Boca Voice, and Business Radio on Sirius XM. She has a blog at Psychology Today, called “Working with Difficult People.” She will speak at the upcoming Conference for Women in Philadelphia and Austin and at the Watermark Conference for Women in San Jose.

Narcissist. Even the word itself makes skin crawl. Who wants to be around someone who is manipulative and so self-consumed that she will trample on her best friend to get ahead?

According to Dr. Steve Bressert, narcissists are cocky and display a “grandiose sense of importance.” They believe that they are always right, and are not likely to listen to people with differing opinions or perspectives.

Socially, if we don’t care for someone’s personality or actions, we can choose not to associate with that individual. But, in the workplace, we’re pretty much stuck—unless we are willing to leave our job or company for greener pastures. Since most of us don’t have the ability to walk away from a boss or client just because we do not like his personality, it is imperative that we keep some simple tactics in our back pocket so that we may pull them out as needed.

Here’s how to best deal with a narcissistic boss:

1. Make direct eye contact during any conversation.
A solid gaze exudes confidence and says “don’t mess with me” without uttering a single word. A boss will take you more seriously if you take yourself seriously. Looking down at your phone or at your colleagues across the hall shows your boss that you are either disinterested in your conversation, or worse yet, easy prey as his next victim.

2. Clarify any misunderstandings or unclear directions.
Narcissists are known for their wishy-washy tendencies. Don’t become the middle guy in a game of fetch. Be sharp and clearly share any discrepancies between your boss’ current message and a previous one. “Boss, yesterday you mentioned that I should focus solely on the quarterly report, yet today you are asking me to work on the new sales launch. Did you want me to work on both simultaneously, or is one of these projects more important than the other?”

3. Stand up for yourself without being disrespectful to your boss.
It is not uncommon for narcissists to lose their cool when we catch them in a pickle. Always remember the Golden Rule and treat your boss with the respect she is due. Still, that doesn’t mean that you need to treat yourself with any less respect. Use care with your language and be kind even when you blatantly disagree with what she said. “Boss, I appreciate your perspective and obviously want to do what is best for the company. But, the recent trends indicate that [x] might be a better way to go here. Would you like for me to forward you the most recent numbers?”

4. Keep detailed records.
If your boss is adamant that you should do something that you know will have a negative outcome, and if you’ve pushed back without success, then make a paper trail that details your interaction and emphasizes his clear directives to complete the task that particular way. You must be your biggest advocate.

5. Share the records with the necessary parties.
Send an email of the recorded account to your boss and to anyone else who might be affected by the decision. Email provides a priceless, timestamped, electronic paper trail. That way, you are protected should your hypothesis prove true. Your message should be straightforward and not accusatory. “Boss, thanks for your time today. To reiterate our conversation, you’ve asked me to do [x]. I suggested that we might consider [y] instead, due to some recent trends. However, you feel that it is best to proceed with [x]. I’m on the case and will keep you and the team posted on my progress. Please let me know if I am missing something.”

Stay true to yourself while being respectful when dealing with a narcissistic boss. Prove your loyalty and your narcissistic boss is more likely to remain loyal to you. Want to learn more about working with narcissists and other difficult people? Follow me on Twitter (@amycooperhakim),LinkedIn (Amy Cooper Hakim) Facebook (Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D.), and at Psychology Today. Read my book Working with Difficult People or visit www.amycooperhakim.com.

Amy Cooper Hakim
Read Dr. Hakim’s blog at Psychology Today. Ask advice on workplace matters at the Boca Voice.com. Follow Dr. Hakim on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. For consulting opportunities and public speaking engagements, please visit www.amycooperhakim.com.

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