9 ways to deal with a narcissistic boss, according to psychology

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The hardest narcs to deal with are those you can’t easily cut off.

If they happen to be your boss, you just gotta learn to live with them (unless you have another job lined up, of course!)

Luckily, narcs are quite predictable. 

You just have to avoid doing things that trigger them. And if you know how to tickle their fancy, they might actually help you get to the top.

What I’m saying is—if you’re working with a narc boss, it’s not the end of the world.

Here are ways to deal with a narcissistic boss according to psychology.

1) Praise their appearance

They’re carrying a new bag? 

Well, don’t just ignore it. Admire how classy it looks! Or at least ask them where they got it.

New nails? New tie? New lashes? New dress?

You know what to do!

According to a study on why narcissists are charming at first sight, narcissists tend to go out of their way to impress others with their appearance. 

They’re like a peacock who always wants to show how adorable they are.

So want to score some easy points with your narc boss? 

Make them feel good about how they look. 

2) Use “We” instead of “I”

According to a paper on Narcissism and extrinsic goals, narcs attribute higher importance to acquiring leadership than non-narcissists.

What does this mean?

It means they want to FEEL like a boss—always.

One way to do this is by making them feel like they have a huge contribution in the work you do. 

How?

According to this book, narcissists are more motivated to help others if they hear a lot of “we” and “us” pronouns.

So if you want a narc boss to approve your proposal, try using the pronoun “we” instead of “I”.

Say “We want to make things better” instead of “I want to make things better.”

Say “We can do this!” and “We will be the best!”

Using “we” and “us” makes them feel more attached to the project, and if your proposal is decent enough, the chance of it getting approved is much higher.

3) Acknowledge good behavior

Narcs are insecure little toddlers who are always hungry for praise—any kind of praise!

So go ahead and praise them. 

But don’t just praise their work and their looks, praise good behavior. And do it more often.

If they’re being generous, if they show concern for others, if they acknowledge their flaws—in other words, if they don’t act narcissistic—appreciate them for it.

You can say “We really feel so lucky that you allow us to give our input”.

Or “It’s so generous of you to share your expertise.”

There’s no guarantee, but praising them might just motivate them to do more non-narc behaviors just to hear more praise from you.

4) Let them win

Arguing with a narcissist is futile. You’ll NEVER win. And I mean, never ever ever ever!

The more your argument escalates, the more they’ll try to prove to you how wrong you are

They will pulverize you and make your life a living hell!

So yeah. The wisest thing to do is to just let them win.

Psychologist and narcissist expert Ramani Durvasula said “Nothing you say is going to change their point of view or behavior. It’s about you knowing that you are not to blame, and just putting a bow on the conversation and letting it go.”

So unless they’re making a really stupid decision that could potentially harm the company, just shut up and let them win. Hand them a trophy if you have to.

5) Show some empathy

Empathy—It’s what narcs don’t ever want to give but always want to get.

Empathy is soothing to narcissists, according to Elinor Greenberg, a psychologist who specializes in personality disorders.

By saying empathetic statements, you’re making them feel like you truly care for them as a person…and they need that.

“It must be tough for you to do that all by yourself.”

“I hear you. It’s difficult to manage everything from start to finish.”

“I totally understand why you feel that way.”

In fact, empathetic statements have such a great impact on narcissists that it can even help de-escalate arguments.

If they lash out and blame everyone for everything, you can say “I understand your frustration” before defending your team or saying anything that could frustrate them even more.

6) Never criticize them 

Criticism—it’s what narcs love to give, but don’t ever want to get!

So don’t criticize them—especially not in front of others.

I know you’re probably thinking “But how can we improve if we’ll just shut up?”

Well, there are other safer ways to do that.

You can let others “criticize” them, for example. By this I mean you suggest hiring experts/ consultants or simply getting opinions from outsiders to assess their work objectively.

That way, the criticism won’t come from you.

Or you can criticize without actually sounding like you’re criticizing. 

If their powerpoint presentation sucks, don’t say it sucks. Say “I like how informative it is. We can make it better by adding more photos. What do you think?”

7) Set boundaries (without being dramatic)

If they curse you, don’t glare and shout “How dare you treat me like shit!”

Instead, say “I know you’re upset but I can’t tolerate any kind of verbal abuse. I hope you understand that it affects my work.”

If they call you at 10pm to talk about work, don’t say “What gives you the right to call me at this hour?!”

Instead, simply don’t answer their call. 

Then tell them the next day “I saw you called me, but I don’t answer work-related calls after I clock out, especially if it’s late. I hope you don’t find this rude.”

If they keep violating your boundaries, you just have to keep instilling them…until they learn to respect them or until you’ll find a new boss.

8) Protect yourself from the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse

Do you know that narcissistic abuse has a shocking impact on the brain?

That means, if you care about your wellbeing, you have to start thinking of an exit plan if you realize your boss is truly narcissistic.

But while you’re still with them for whatever reason—maybe you’re still hopeful they’ll change, maybe the salary is too good, maybe you want to learn more—then at least protect yourself.

Ensure that their actions and words won’t cause irreversible damage to your self-esteem and mental health.

What you can do:

  • Let it all out! You just can’t keep it all in. Rant, vent, throw eggs on a wall, just don’t engage in self-destructive habits.
  • Surround yourself with people who know your worth.
  • Don’t take work too personally.
  • Minimize your interactions with them.
  • Cultivate a richer life outside work. Do your hobbies, spend more time with family.
  • Meditate.
  • Read more about handling a narcissist.

9) Have an exit plan

If you’ve done all the things above and you still dread going to work because your narcissistic boss is getting more and more abusive, you have to leave.

You don’t have to do it today. 

You don’t even have to do it in a month or a year. Take your time and be strategic about it.

Ask yourself if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. 

If you realize that you’re just staying for the salary, then leave sooner.

Start submitting your resume to other companies, save up or borrow money from your parents so you can be out of work for a while.

But if you realize that you still have to stay a bit more for your career growth, then endure a bit more. But set a clear date to leave. 

Knowing that you won’t have to endure narcissistic abuse forever can already make each day more bearable.

Final thoughts

While career and money are both very important, you shouldn’t sacrifice your wellbeing just to get to the top.

So yes, try the psych-backed tricks above. Some of them could help you handle your narcissistic boss better.

But if months pass and they still don’t know how to treat you right, prepare to walk away.

No amount of money can fix trauma caused by prolonged narcissistic abuse.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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