4 Tips for Handling a Narcissistic Boss
A psychotherapist's advice for managing up.
From The Office's Michael Scott to Miranda Priestly inÂ The Devil Wears Prada, narcissistic bosses are portrayed on TVÂ and in movies as demanding, lacking in empathy, and pathologically self-importantâ€”which is preeetty much deadÂ on, according to research.
In a 2011 study published in Psychological Science, researchers observed 150 people and foundÂ that those with narcissistic personalities made terrible leaders, becauseÂ their self-centerednessÂ interfered with theÂ creative exchange of ideas and hindered group decision-making. In fact, narcissists often rise to the top precisely because they are so conceited. A study done at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that narcissists scored higher in simulated job interviews than equally-qualified non-narcissists.Â â€œ[An interview] is one setting where itâ€™s OK to say nice things about yourself and there are no ramifications. In fact, itâ€™s expected,â€ co-author Peter Harms explainedÂ in a university pressÂ release.
The good news? HavingÂ a narcissistic boss doesn't necessarily mean youÂ need to give notice. Here,Â psychotherapist Joseph Burgo, PhD, the author of The Narcissist You Know ($25; amazon.com), shares some helpful tips for managing up.
RELATED: 10 Signs You Might Be a Narcissist
Figure out whoÂ you're dealing with
Does your boss need to beÂ the center of attention? Hold grudges? Give (often unsolicited) advice? These are all telltale signs of a narcissistic personality. But there are alsoÂ workplace-specific red flags, says Burgo.Â "A narcissistic boss might be unable to compromise or accept input from the rest of the team," he says. "They may also react defensively and with hostility to even constructive criticism."
Other signs? Look out for a manager who is highly competitive, tries to sabotage the careers of his competitors, or mustÂ win every disagreement. "A narcissistic boss may also shoot down other people's work, or try to take credit for it himself," addsÂ Burgo.
Pick your battles
Perhaps an important presentation goes poorly. Or your team reports low numbers for the second consecutive month. You suspect the the problem can be traced toÂ decisions your manager made. But how do you say so without offending?
"An unwritten part of your job description, like it or not, is to protect your boss's ego," says Burgo. "If you challenge him or her directly, you'll only make yourself a target of his hostility."
If your bossÂ does become angryÂ atÂ you, it may be bestÂ to hold off onÂ trying to reasonÂ with her until after she's cooled down, says Burgo.Â PhrasesÂ like, "I didn't mean it that way" or "I'm only trying to help" willÂ worsen theÂ situation. Stick with a brief, simple apologyâ€”even if you don't think you have anything to be sorry for.
"An apology will diffuse the assault," says Burgo.Â "This may sound like cowardly advice, but going up againstÂ a narcissistic boss is a losing proposition."
Filter the feedback you get
When she's critiquing you, listen. Just because someone isÂ a narcissist doesn't mean her observations can't be legit. But if you decide her words areÂ not intended to be constructive, try not to take themÂ personally.Â It can be difficult not to internalize your manager's negativity. But remember thatÂ her negativity isÂ not really about you, saysÂ Burgo.
Still fuming hours later? It may help toÂ vent your frustrations to a friend or family member. Research has found that this type ofÂ gossiping can actually be therapeutic, since it helpsÂ reduce stress and can moderate yourÂ heart rate.
If you'reÂ tempted to talk to a colleague, don't. Even if you think he or she canÂ relate, it's not worth theÂ risk that theÂ conversationÂ will getÂ back to your boss.
Know when it's time to move on
"Successfully managing a narcissistic boss means having a very strong ego," says Burgo. "So don't let his or her attacks damage your own self-esteem."Â That said, if youÂ feelÂ increasingly badÂ about yourself, have trouble sleeping, orÂ dread going to work every day, it may be time to look for another job.