7 Tips for Managing Your Narcissistic Boss

number seven on a blue race track

© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.    “How do I deal with my narcissistic boss?” is the most common complaint I get about high-conflict people in the workplace. They are everywhere and seem to be increasing these days – from the lowest supervisor to the self-destructive owner of the business. They generally seek positions over others in order to help themselves feel better about themselves – because unconsciously they feel helpless and inferior. They need people below them to reassure them that they are “superior.” But it’s never enough. Narcissistic bosses want (need?) constant reminders that they are the “best,” the “brightest,” the “richest,” or anything that feels one-up to those around them. If you have such a boss, you will naturally feel miserable. It’s the human response to being treated as an inferior. The trick is to learn how to “manage” this boss until you can permanently get away from him or her. Here are some tips:   1. Understand their predictable patterns of behavior. Narcissists are self-absorbed. They lack empathy for others, are arrogant, feel entitled, and manipulate relationships to serve their own interests. At the conscious level, they truly believe they are superior to those around them, but at an unconscious level they are very insecure. They demand attention and admiration from those around them. If you directly confront a narcissistic boss, he or she will do everything possible to “put you down,” to recover from the “narcissistic injury” you have caused them by temporarily destroying their fantasy of superiority.   2.Understand that their behavior is deeply rooted. Personality traits are mostly formed in early childhood for all of us. Narcissistic personalities are often developed: (A) because of biological tendencies present before birth; (B) as a defense mechanism against child abuse or an insecure “attachment” with one or more parent figures; or (C) from being overly-empowered as a child without normal social limits or responsibilities. Therefore, you are not going to change their personality or get them to “look in the mirror” at their own behavior. Instead, you need to manage them in small ways that help you cope on a daily basis.   3. Understand their moods and behavior will swing back and forth. Narcissists can be very charming at times – usually to “win” people as friends or allies. Narcissists can be very vindictive at other times – usually as a result of a “narcissistic injury” when someone has threatened their superior self-image, either privately or publically. Both of these moods are temporary, so it’s not hopeless when he or she is being vindictive, and it’s not over when he or she is being charming again. You can often influence these moods. You just have to be careful. I know you will resent having to watch your own behavior so much, but it’s not that hard and it will make your life so much easier.     4. Try to connect with Empathy, Attention and Respect (EAR). I know this is the opposite of what you feel like doing. But this really works. Look interested when your narcissistic boss talks to you. “Butter him/her up” with an occasional compliment, asking a question (such as asking for advice on something), sharing an interesting tidbit of information, or thanks for some positive contribution.  But be careful not to lie about a compliment, or put down your own skills in the conversation. Just be matter-of-fact and let the focus be on him or her for a few minutes. Don’t get defensive, because their comments are not about you. Resisting your own defensiveness can take great personal strength, but you can do it – especially if you remind yourself “It’s Not About Me” before you have a talk. It’s about the narcissistic boss’ insecurities and lack of effective social skills.   5. Analyze your realistic options. It helps to write down what has happened, to help you get perspective and take it less personally. Then write down what your options are: get a different job at a different company; get a different position at the same company; talk to someone else about strategies for dealing with this boss (human resources, ombudsperson, his or her supervisor, etc.); study your companies’ policy on bullying; etc. Knowing you have options will make you much stronger in the face of someone else’s ridiculous behavior. Just avoid direct confrontation, which is tempting when you feel stronger. You may need a positive evaluation or recommendation some day from this narcissistic boss. Instead, focus on something else, such as counting the days until you will no longer have to work for this boss.   6. Respond quickly to misinformation. Narcissistic bosses often “kiss up” to their superiors in the workplace hierarchy, to make themselves look good. This often includes putting someone else down, such as spreading belittling remarks about you or others. Without directly challenging the narcissist, you should provide the correct information as soon as possible, so that others in your company do not come to believe that these criticisms about you are true. If an email contains misinformation, respond in an email and just say something like: “In case anyone was unclear about …, here are some details which you might find helpful…” Then focus on factual information, without commenting on the distortions that may have preceded it. Your matter-of-fact tone and factual information will show that you are the more credible person. If you slip into counter-attacks you will hurt your own credibility in the long run.   7. Carefully set limits on really bad behavior. Narcissistic bosses are constantly violating other people’s boundaries, constantly insulting, and constantly demanding of attention. You are not going to change these behavior patterns, but you may be able to “contain” or stop specific behaviors for a while. First, think of the behavior that you want. Then think about whether this is a limit you could set personally (like saying: “I have to go now, in order to finish the project you asked me to do

How to Look Good When a Coworker Blames You

© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Most of us have had to cope with a coworker that drives us nuts. The woman one cube over argues with customers. That dude in sales thinks he’s better than everyone.  Often, these folks find themselves in trouble but, surprisingly, many of them do very well on the job.  Why is that? The Wall Street Journal says people who avoid conflict can be seen as ineffective, while managers who engage in conflict, or at least don’t shy away from it, are viewed as being better for the bottom line. WSJ wrote, “It’s not that firms want contentious leaders, but those who retreat from confrontation tend to postpone hard decisions and allow problems to fester.”  That makes sense to me, but it is maddening to watch a high-conflict person advance while we play nice and go nowhere. Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute writes, “The workplace is where many HCPs deal with their relationship issues.” In other words, an HCP is preoccupied with his (or her) internal difficulties, be it an outside relationship or with someone at the office, and he’ll not only lose focus on workplace matters, he’ll blame coworkers for his own problems. How to Prevent Looking Bad to Your Boss With Just One Email Part of the solution is understanding the motivation behind how HCPs think differently than normal folks.  The other part is in recognizing the part you play and choosing the words you use, so be BIFF – Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. For instance, you are Karen and opened your email to find this: Mark, I am responding to your request for an update on Project X.  Despite my efforts, we are behind schedule. I was working on this constantly, but I’ve been waiting for Karen’s statistical report and I can’t move forward without it. She’s promised me the report several times and as soon as I get it, I’ll be able to finish the project. I keep telling Karen to manage her time better, but I’ve been worried all along that she is not competent enough to work here and you should think about letting her go. I am copying Karen on this email so that you can try to get her on track for the team. Best, Harry. Oh great, he’s at it again: blaming everyone else for his own failure and trying to get you fired on top of it! You have the report nearly done, but Harry keeps tasking you with other stuff and he made you cover for Chris who was on vacation. You have no time to finish the report even if you skip lunch and breaks. When you tried telling him it was too much and asked him to help with the report, he just said you should work late, which is against policy and would mean you could not pick up the kids on time from daycare. You felt like writing back to say all that, but would it help or hurt? You’ve been reading up on high-conflict bosses and learned that HCPs will “project” their own behavior onto others. In Harry’s case, he’s blaming you when it’s actually his responsibility to dole out realistic workloads and to ensure deadlines are met.  Harry is projecting his own management failures onto you. You take pride in your work and get excellent reviews from other managers, but you’ve learned the hard way that defending yourself from Harry just gets him riled up and keeps the emails coming. With ending it in mind, you decided to respond as follows: Hi Mark, Harry is correct that the project is a week late and I agree that meeting deadlines is important to the company.  To finish the report, I will need about 16 hours dedicated to working on the analysis and finishing the writing. Chris is back from vacation so I am no longer covering his workload in addition to my own. Since other projects I was given have later deadlines, I suggest that I spend the rest of this week finishing Project X. This would also allow me to get it done without overtime. If you prefer that Harry assist with the analysis, please let us know before noon, otherwise I will implement this plan to finish the project quickly.  Thanks, –Karen. It’s only one paragraph, so it’s Brief.  It ignores Harry’s “blamespeak,” which would just fuel his fire, and focuses only on factual matters, so it is Informative. It’s Friendly because you agreed with Harry about deadlines and acknowledged it is important. It’s Firm because it gives Mark a choice as to how Harry might help or not, but either way presents a plan to resolve the matter with no discussion of anybody’s shortcomings. The Secret Of A Successful Email To The Boss is… …Don’t follow your instincts.You could have written back and said,  “Geeze, I’m sorry. I’ve been really busy, but I’ll try to get it done this week.” Many of us feel like this is appropriate because we don’t want to get in trouble with bosses. We keep our mouths shut, apologize and work late.  However, this is the kind of conflict avoidance the WSJ article noted as an undesirable employee trait, and I have to agree.  When you apologize, HCPs like Harry just think (or say) “See? I was right.” Worse, it gives Mark the impression that Harry’s false accusations were correct, which could put your job in jeopardy. Another gut-feeling response is, “I would have had the report done a long time ago, but Harry is a lousy manager and keeps derailing my time then blames me for it!” Even though it’s true, it would backfire. Harry would write back explaining how it’s not his fault and the conversation would veer off into he-said-she-said land and take time away from anyone finishing the darn report. It’s not always necessary to defend yourself, but in this case, you should because (A) Harry recommended that you be fired and