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You walk into the office on a Monday morning, where your boss is crowing about your branch’s recent achievement. You know you can’t say anything about how you played an instrumental role in that success—that would send your boss into a fit of wrath and passive-aggressive power plays against you.

You sit at your desk to find that your boss has heaped more responsibilities onto your workload. You sigh, knowing that your achievements for the company will only be enjoyed by your superior. You start working on a project you’ll have to consult your boss about, knowing you’ll have to flatter their ego and agree with their points to make it a quick and productive conversation.

Stay in Control With a Narcissistic Boss

(Andrea Piacquadio/pexels)

If this situation sounds familiar to you, you’re likely working under a narcissistic boss. It can be incredibly difficult to go to work each day with a positive attitude under these circumstances. Additionally, you may fear for your job security in the event that you accidentally trigger your boss’s anger.

To help you maintain a lower level of stress in your workplace, follow these strategies to learn how to deal with a narcissistic boss.

Understand How They Think

To succeed when working with a narcissistic boss, you must understand their thought processes. Narcissistic people believe they deserve to be given the world on a silver platter. If an employee helps the company, the narcissistic boss feels they should get the credit—“after all, I’m the one in charge.”

Narcissists believe everyone else is beneath them, and therefore any dissenting voices are not worth considering. Narcissistic leaders are particularly dangerous because they make decisions by focusing on what will benefit them, not their employees or the company. These toxic traits can spread to the rest of the office, leading to a team where every member acts in self-interest rather than in a spirit of collaboration.

If you want to be successful in the workplace under a narcissistic boss, understand that they are not looking out for your good. Your boss is only interested in how they will benefit, and they’re not interested in hearing your differing opinions.

Establish Boundaries

Before accepting any projects from your boss, understand that no project is off-limits from being assigned to you. To a narcissist in the workplace, projects are less about their quantity and more about their nature. If narcissistic bosses believe a project is beneath them, they feel it’s their right to give it to a lesser employee.

To deal with this, you may need to take on some uninteresting or time-consuming tasks. However, the important thing is to set clear boundaries from the beginning. Be cordial and respectful but also assertive when communicating your goals, responsibilities, workload, and personal limits. Additionally, get everything in writing rather than just as a verbal assignment so you can’t be accused of not doing something that was never assigned to you in the first place.

Keep Your Interactions Brief and Objective

When you interact with your boss, be brief and stick to the topic at hand. Short sentences are best. Stick to the facts and stay professional (not emotional or defensive). Doing all this is easier said than done, but it will get easier with practice.

Redirect Inflammatory Conversations

Narcissists, especially those in leadership positions, will often describe others as irrational, unreasonable, unstable, or other insulting traits. Your job as an employee is to avoid every possible negative conversation. Try redirecting the conversation to the task at hand to defuse the tension.

If your boss is directing these phrases at you, know that you have the right to walk away—and make sure you read the next strategy.

Document Everything

Working with a narcissistic boss can get hairy, especially if you have to get legal professionals involved. To protect yourself:

  1. Document every interaction you have with your boss, whether it be praise, criticism, arguments, or anything else.
  2. Note the date, time, any direct quotes you may remember, any witnesses, and whether you felt uncomfortable or unsafe.
  3. Keep all records on a personal device.

This last point is important because if you are fired or laid off, your workplace devices will be confiscated immediately. You’ll need to keep this information handy if you ever need to consult an attorney or human resources. Even if it never comes to that, your documentation can help provide you with validation and perspective.

Appeal to Their Desires

Narcissists crave praise and attention, and narcissist bosses only act in self-interest. If you can remember this when you need to work with or consult your boss, you’ll have an easier time getting what you need.

For example, if you need to work with them on a project, they’ll probably consider beneath them, try framing it as you being excited to learn from their expertise. If you need to point out a flaw in their reasoning, do it privately, add compliments beforehand and afterward, and emphasize how your input will advance their career and bolster their reputation.

Doing this can be challenging; no one likes feeling like a suck-up, but sometimes it’s necessary for your career.

Manage Your Mental Health

Even under the best of circumstances, working under a narcissist is terrible. It’s draining, demanding, and downright demeaning. To counteract the negativity, ensure you have a good work-life balance and spend your free time doing things you enjoy.

If you find that your job is taking a toll on your mental health, prioritize healthy habits like getting enough sleep, exercise, and adequate nutrition. Hopefully, you’ll thrive in your workplace when you carefully study and remember these strategies to learn how to handle a narcissist boss. If you ultimately feel that the toxic work environment isn’t worth the struggle, know that it’s OK to look for other employment.

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