Strategies for Handling the Toxic Narcissists at Work

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The toxic narcissist. Oh my…We've all encountered them at work- those people who are charismatic, popular with the boss, admired by many of their peers but in reality, terrible, awful people.They

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by  Marcia Sirota MD

narcissist. Oh my…

We've all encountered them at work- those people who are charismatic, popular with the boss, admired by many of their peers but in reality, terrible, awful people.

They ingratiate themselves with the management, shirk their responsibilities, steal work from colleagues and call it their own, take excessive "sick" days, manipulate and exploit others for their own gain, and always manage to be front and center when the boss is giving out complements and rewards.

Many people at work are taken in by their charming performance, but some of us see right through them. It can be pretty annoying, especially if you're someone who works hard, is conscientious and who has integrity, to watch this type of toxic narcissist do better than you.

So how do you deal with someone like this? 
It depends on the culture of your workplace.

In an enlightened workplace, the boss will finally see through this toxic person and move them out. All you have to do is wait a while and things will go back to normal, with a positive, constructive collegial atmosphere prevailing.

There are, however, many bosses who are easily charmed by a toxic narcissist. They'll see only the shiny surface of this person and be unwilling or unable to look past their false persona.

In this type of work environment, it would be professional suicide to call to your boss's attention the fact that your co-worker is lying, cheating, bullying, or whatever terrible thing it is that they're doing.

It's also a very bad idea to walk around angry or to act out in any way. The boss will only see the worst of you, and will never be sympathetic to the fact that you're upset by the injustices occurring in your workplace. You'll just look bad.

When a boss is charmed by a narcissistic employee it's as though they're under a spell. To try and break this spell by complaining about your horrible co-worker is a) impossible, and b) will result in your boss becoming enraged with you.

In the blinded eyes of your boss, they'll see you as the trouble-maker. How dare you besmirch the reputation of their darling employee?! You'll come across as jealous and vindictive. Your honest attempts to rectify the situation will be interpreted as petty resentfulness.

You have three choices in such a workplace:

Choice number one: Put your head down and do your job. Try not to leak your resentment or antagonize your narcissistic co-worker and if the boss goes on and on, extolling the praises of this horrible individual, enthusiastically agree with them.

Choice number two: Find a new place to work; one in which the management is more sophisticated and which recognizes a toxic narcissist for the time-wasting, energy-sucking, morale-draining vampire that they are.

Choice number three: Be strategic. Without turning into a monster yourself, find ways to ingratiate yourself with your boss. For example, figure out what they're interested in – like fly fishing, astronomy or needlework – and subtly let them discover how much of an enthusiast you are for these things.

Having common passions with the boss will begin to endear you to them. As will remembering the names of their children, or any other personal details they might have shared with you at some point. When this type of boss sees you as liking and admiring them, they're going to be more warmly disposed toward you.

And here's the not-so-hidden secret in this workplace situation: the boss who is taken in by the toxic narcissist working for them is a narcissist themselves.

When the narcissistic worker butters up their boss in the manipulative way only a narcissist can, it's most effective when that boss is so self-absorbed and self-important that their ego happily inflates on receiving this disingenuous flattery.

You can choose to stay out of it, quietly doing your job and keeping a low profile; you can look for another job- but there's no guarantee that your new boss won't be narcissistic, either, or you can beat the toxic narcissist at their own game, but by doing it in your own, more ethical way.

Let your boss see how fantastic you are. Buff and shine and polish your workplace persona until it glows. If you're not a narcissist, you can't compete on that level of gamesmanship. You'll never be as good at trickery as they are, so abandon that strategy before you begin, and find more subtle ways to succeed.

Always make an effort to sit where your boss can see you at meetings. Make frequent but not-too-intense eye contact with them; smile warmly at them; give them a compliment that's subtle and seems unrehearsed, so you don't look like you're trying to curry favor with them. In other words, seduce them, and by this I mean get them to be as charmed by you as they are by your narcissistic co-worker.

You can't get your boss to stop thinking that your horrible colleague is fantastic, but you can get your narcissistic boss to see you as equally wonderful.

Always have your work done on time, if not early, and find subtle ways for your boss to see this. Be friendly and helpful (but not a doormat) toward everyone at work, and show your boss how likeable and popular you are.

Let your boss see what a fantastic asset you are to the workplace, on both an interpersonal and productivity level. And most of all, subtly let your boss know how thrilled you are to be working for them, which will make them feel really good about themselves.

The interesting lesson here is that the more susceptible your boss is to the charms of a toxic narcissist, the more they reveal their own narcissistic nature, and the easier it will be for you to use this personality weakness of theirs to propel your own success.

You can't complain about the toxic narcissist, you can't compete head-to-head with them, you can't try to use their techniques- techniques that an honest person like you is doomed to fail at- and you can't ever get into conflicts with them, because they will always win.

If you choose to stay at your job, you can see this dysfunctional dynamic as an opportunity to be clever and strategic and to shine in the eyes of your boss.

Instead of getting upset at the injustice of the narcissist succeeding- and they'll probably do very well for themselves- you must put that out of your mind: in this, you have no control. Rather, you can take advantage of what you see and use it for your own benefit.

You can recognize the weakness your boss has demonstrated and use it to your best advantage. You can see that in their egocentric haze, your boss will be just as easily taken in by your "non-toxic" strategies for success as they are by the toxic narcissist(s) in your midst.

In this way, the toxic narcissist is a gift, allowing you to discover a chink in your boss's armor, and paving the way for your own strategies for making yourself look brilliant and indispensable to them.

Dr. Marcia Sirota is a Toronto-based board certified psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of trauma and addiction, as well as founder of the Ruthless Compassion Institute, whose mandate is to promote the philosophy of Ruthless Compassion and in so doing, improve the lives of people, everywhere.

 

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