About having a narcissistic boss: signs to recognize them, their effect and how to deal with it

Many people have worked for a narcissistic boss or have been exposed to narcissists in the work environment. There are quite some narcissists in the work environment so chances are that you’re encountering them. Narcissists negatively affect the energy of their environment by being extremely self-centered, self-admiring and by not caring about the feelings of others.

A narcissistic boss or narcissistic coworkers could make your work very difficult and affect your energy. You might feel drained, stressful, anxious, full of doubt and you possibly don’t want to go to work because of it. You could also be less affected but still like some tips on how to make working for your narcissistic boss more comfortable. Either way, knowledge is power and therefore I made this in-depth article about how to deal with a narcissistic boss. Hopefully, it will be helpful to you!

I’ve had a few narcissistic bosses and because of my experience of growing up with a narcissistic father, I know how to recognize and deal with them. My father happened to be a director himself and as a child, I also learned about his disturbing narcissistic view on his ‘less-worthy’ employees. It’s no surprise he became a director as he is a very intelligent and charming narcissist with knowledge of psychology and coaching.

In this article, I will go into signs your boss could be a narcissist and their possible effect on the work environment and on you. I will then go into how to deal with a narcissistic boss. But first, let’s see why narcissists often appear in managerial functions to give you an idea of how they could work.

Why do narcissists appear often in managerial functions?

In a competitive world where success is measured by status, grades, talent and wealth narcissists will thrive. This form of measurable success and status is exactly what they care for which means being a narcissist is an advantage in trying to achieve these things. This is because a narcissist is self-centered and doesn’t take others into consideration if there is no specific use for them.

There is a lot of confidence in their actions and they can also be very charming, charismatic and great at winning others over. A narcissist has no problems taking risks and finding support for their ideas.

This all means a narcissist could have the advantage to become a boss or manager and therefore, we see quite some narcissists in managerial functions. It makes sense because narcissistic behaviour could come across as ‘leadership skills’.

A narcissist has no problems with making tough decisions concerning others and can be very productive because they typically aren’t slowed down by negative thoughts or doubts. The charming, productive, decisive and inspiring narcissist would thus do great in the office!

Impact on their environment

Sadly, the narcissist doesn’t care for other people and will manipulate, control and have a negative influence on the atmosphere in the workplace. It might seem a narcissist is successful (because they say so!) but they aren’t more effective leaders than non-narcissists. They have an enormous blind spot about themselves, their effectiveness, their connection to others and their limitations.

A narcissistic boss can thus have quite some impact on the whole work environment which can be challenging to deal with and that’s why I wrote this article. I will now go into how to recognize a narcissistic boss, what effects they have on the workplace and specifically on you, and how to possibly deal with it.

How do we recognize a narcissistic boss? 8 signs your boss could be a narcissist

It’s important to know that someone showing narcissistic behaviour isn’t necessarily a narcissist. There might be people that are just egocentric, believe in themselves a bit too much or think they are pretty important. It’s about the extent of someone showing narcissistic behaviour and the draining effect this behaviour has. Whether someone is actually a narcissist or not is not most important as you mainly need to learn how to handle their behaviour.

These are 8 signs your boss could be a narcissist.

1. Your boss only talks about himself or herself and constantly needs admiration

A narcissist craves for attention and affirmation. They tend to only talk about themselves and their achievements, great qualities or admirable accomplishments. They love to have a fanbase for telling their stories which employees are great for!

Being the boss allows them to pull attention and probably not getting (much) negative feedback about their dominant behaviour. Employees tend to accept their behaviour and therefore a narcissistic boss could thrive in pulling attention. It’s an unhealthy dynamic.

2. Taking credits from others and blaming others for mistakes

It’s like narcissists are a magnet pulling all positive things happening around them to claim it all and make it their own achievement. They thus claim responsibility for any achievement in their environment if possible.

The magnet also works the other way around. This means that they will try to push away all responsibility for negative things or bad developments around them and blame/shame others for mistakes or bad results.

Some narcissists can even take this a step further. Due to their need for admiration they can even transform something you did as if it was their own accomplishment. If they pull something you did to themselves instead of giving you credits for it, it’s a clear sign your boss might be a narcissist. Lastly, they are also capable to blame you for their own failures.

The thought behind all of this will be something like the following (and some even will literally say something like this):
– ‘I’m a great boss for allowing you to do great work’
– ‘I did so great coaching and supporting you’
– ‘You thrived because of my amazing tips and ideas’
– ‘You are nothing without my leadership’.

3. They don’t allow someone else to be the center of attention

Narcissists can have a problem with letting someone else be the center of attention. Sometimes you can even see this disturbance in their faces. It’s a specific look you might learn to recognize when dealing with narcissists more often or when you sadly had earlier experiences with narcissists.

A normal boss would enjoy someone taking credits and attention because of an achievement. A narcissistic boss, however, won’t give any attention to it or they will pull attention to them and at least share getting credits. They could also very shortly allow the attention being with someone else and then move on quickly to another subject.

4. All-in or all-out

A narcissistic boss tends to be fully devoted and very positive about you or fully ignore you. There is no balance in this and it can change quickly (hot/cold, mood swings). As long as your useful to them or their needs it will be great but when they expect different things they can turn on you. It’s a transactional dynamic and thus very black and white.

This results in having people who are love-bombed and people being scapegoated by a narcissist. A narcissist rewards their flying monkeys that support their greatness and they put others down to maintain their inflated ego. Obviously this is a devastating dynamic for the ambiance and it creates a bad atmosphere in the workplace.

If you want to read more about flying monkeys and manipulation strategies of a narcissist you can read my article about the narcissist’s web of control or my article explaining 9 manipulation tactics of narcissists.

5. Show off their wealth

Another sign of a narcissistic boss is that they tend to love showing off their wealth and dominance. They want to show everyone they are doing great and they deserve to be the boss. They will dress expensive clothes, be organized and neat. You can clearly notice that they think about their appearance and pay a lot of attention to it.

6. They don’t listen to others and there is a lack of connection with others

A narcissistic boss tends not to listen to other people’s ideas or they take over ideas as if it were their own. They often speak with large hand movements, loudly and they wait to speak again when someone else is talking instead of listening. A narcissistic boss will not build any deeper connection with others and isn’t genuinely interested in you or how you’re doing. When they are nice or when they praise you they have a practical reason to do so.

They could get along great with other narcissists. In general, a narcissistic boss will have more intensive short-term interactions. A narcissist has no empathy and thus most narcissists don’t like emotions or to talk about them. Emotions are a weakness for them or something they can manipulate.

7. They can’t handle criticism or being questioned

A narcissist can’t handle being criticized or being questioned. It really puts them off and they could respond indignant, angry, frustrated, cynical, by brushing it aside or show no response at all. You will mostly see a little flinch in their face if they don’t respond though.

It’s because a narcissist has a thirst for approval and validation and it’s like you’re attacking them. In their mind, they are always ‘right’ so they will insist on that. They don’t really apologize, at least not in a sincere way. Any attack or possible blame they will mostly try to mirror.

8. They love control, manipulating and lying

Clearly, a narcissist loves being in control and being in a position to dominate others. Being a boss is the perfect situation to be in control and employees will accept their dominant behaviour as being normal. It’s abusing the workplace inequality between employee and boss and stretching that into having the same inequality in self-worth.

A narcissist loves to manipulate and lie and has no boundaries in that sense. Therefore, they can fully focus on the manipulative game to gain control and admiration.

Possible general effects on the culture and employees at your job

So the signs of a narcissist boss make it clear that a narcissistic boss can create quite a toxic environment. Their influence can be very strong. Here are a few general effects a narcissistic boss could have on the culture of a workplace or team:

  • People having negative or disturbed energy. Some might be scared and work harder than they possibly can, some seem depressed and anxious, some are fully disengaged and only a few might be able to be themselves. There will be many struggling employees due to insecurities and lack of appreciation. The employees are not motivated at all or motivated for the wrong reasons such as fear.
  • The narcissist could be like the popular kid in school. Some are trying to please the boss to lift on their ‘greatness’, some take a distance and some feel the negative impact because they are bullied.
  • There could be a toned-down culture of scared employees with a very dominant boss.
  • An effect could be a disengaged culture with independent employees without any glue or connection between anyone. When employees do support or connect with each other it mostly results in groups being (silently) against the boss. There will then be a lot of blaming and negativity going on.
  • A narcissistic culture with a lot of comparing, gossip, fighting for promotions, praising the boss, etc. It can create a very competitive work environment with a lot of manipulation and games being played.

Your needs, expectations, possibilities and the effects on you

The above shows that a narcissist can thus have quite some impact on the workplace and obviously it also has an effect on you when you have a narcissistic boss. The effect of a narcissistic boss on you is related to your expectations and needs.

It could be that you thought this person would be a good boss and someone you possibly could learn a lot from. You could have seen an example in confidence, competence and motivation/drive. They might even have convinced you to switch jobs and you now work (too) hard trying to succeed but still, you feel like it’s not working. If you recognize you might have a narcissistic boss you have to process this and realize the truth your boss is a narcissist.

Need to be trusted, supported and work in a safe environment

Most people want to be trusted, supported and work in a safe environment in which it’s okay to make mistakes and learn. It obviously doesn’t motivate if your boss will blame or shame you when you make a mistake. This will possibly lead to you being motivated to avoid this and work harder in an unhealthy way.

It’s a stressful situation and there is a risk to get burnout. It could also lead to not being motivated at all because you only seem to be able to fail in their eyes. So let’s go into what to do!

Analyze what’s going on

It’s important to analyze what’s going on and write things down. Write down how it all affects you. What are you missing from your boss? Do you want more appreciation and a feeling of actually helping people? Do you merely want to earn money and disengage?

What do you expect from a job in general, why do you work and what matters to you? For example, you might work to simply earn money, get through the day and you have no need for social interaction at your work. This would probably mean a narcissistic boss has less effect on you as you will work, go home, be paid and have a certain distance to your work.

On the other hand, you might want a fulfilling job in a nice, comfortable and safe environment with possibly a deeper connection with coworkers and your boss. There is a large possibility the work environment won’t feel safe. You will feel a lot of disturbed energy from people as it affects everyone. If you want a fulfilling job in a safe environment having a narcissistic boss is very draining.

These examples show why it’s important to realize and recognize what’s your view on work and what are your possibilities. Knowing your expectations, needs and possibilities will tell you how to deal with the situation and what’s the best solution.

A narcissistic boss will have certain effects and you can’t really change the effects. So you need to change your behaviour to make it work for you, change your expectations or seek another job if it’s too draining (and you have this possibility).

How to deal with a narcissistic boss

There are a few options on how to deal with a narcissistic boss and it depends on what you want from work and how you want yourself to act. One obvious and probably best option is trying to find a new job and environment. If you can’t switch jobs or don’t want to due to other reasons you think are important, you have to find a way to make it work for you.

Adjust your expectations with the knowledge of your boss being a narcissist. Don’t expect a narcissistic boss to be empathic or understanding in a sincere way, try not to work yourself into a burnout trying to please this person, don’t expect a narcissist to respect your boundaries and certainly don’t expect them to guess your boundaries.

Below I will go through possible options on how to deal with a narcissistic boss. You could use the grey rock method, keep as much distance as possible and disengage from them or you could play the manipulative game with them to a certain extent. You could also use a combination of these such as temporarily playing the game and in the meanwhile search for another job.

1. Disengage/grey rock

You could use a form of the grey rock method for dealing with narcissists. It’s a method of essentially becoming like a grey rock when around the narcissist. It means you try to be as boring and unappealing as a grey rock and not respond emotionally to anything. I wrote an in-depth article about this method which you can read here.

The most important part when dealing with a narcissistic boss is disengaging and not responding emotionally. When you know someone is a narcissist you can see their behaviour in this perspective. You know who is the messenger and you don’t have to take their manipulation or unreasonable behaviour seriously.

You might seek some appreciation from your boss but you won’t get it. Realize essentially you know best whether you did good work so you better work for your own appreciation and be proud of overcoming challenges.

To do grey rock in the workplace you become serious, effective and focused on exchanging practical information. You don’t let yourself be provoked but you stay cool and disengaged. Don’t show them that they are getting under your skin and don’t take responsibility for their behaviour. You essentially stay out of arguments or emotional engagement and keep a focus on what you need to do your work. If you don’t need to interact with your boss then stay out of it.

2. Playing the game and create a better working environment for yourself

There are some tips in which you bend yourself and play the game of manipulation a bit. You can use your understanding of your boss and his needs to create a better or more comfortable environment for yourself. I don’t really like it too much because it’s also manipulation and playing the game.

However, I understand playing the game can be a necessary evil and can be useful or needed. I do want to emphasize to take into consideration whether your actions possible negatively affect other coworkers. It can also negatively impact yourself if you start pleasing or manipulating too much so beware and be conscious of what you’re doing. There is a risk of becoming less like yourself.

Tips on playing the manipulative game

The tips naturally follow from how narcissists work and the knowledge of what is important to them. It’s essentially giving them what they care for:

  • Praise them, be their audience, make them look good and validate/stroke their ego.
  • Allow them to take credit and be useful in their eyes. Agree with them and their view that it’s about them.
  • Accept responsibility, own your ‘mistakes’ and tell them they are right and you will try to improve. You could even thank them for their great coaching or feedback.
  • Don’t complain or gossip to coworkers who might be flying monkeys. Probably don’t gossip at all because it’s just negative energy. You could possibly share your feelings with kind and sincere colleagues you trust. If you don’t, then share with your friends, family or therapist.
  • Don’t blame or criticize your boss. Don’t be a threat or competition.
  • Ask questions and find out what’s important to them and then focus on doing those things. Remember the details of their personal life and your conversations.
  • In general, let them talk and ask questions.

3. Look for another job

In the long term, it will certainly be more healthy to have a job without the influence of a narcissistic boss and thus it might be smart to start looking for another job. You can learn how to deal with it better by using the grey rock method or playing the manipulative game but it still requires energy and will affect you. So the best thing is not needing all this advice on playing games and how to not be yourself!

4. Focus on yourself and set boundaries

In general, it’s healthy to set boundaries and stick with them. You don’t have to accept abusive or disrespectful behaviour. You have this control even if it doesn’t feel like you do.

Stay focused on what you want and your own goals. If you stay at your job, know why you are staying and write down what you’re learning and why it’s helpful. What are the benefits of you dealing with this narcissistic boss? This can help motivate you and keep you strong.

A positive list with the benefits of your job can help you at those moments you are struggling with the negative influence of your boss. You can stand behind the conscious choice you made to stay even though it might not be easy.

It’s also smart to counterbalance the chaos and drama created by a narcissistic boss. So you could, for example, try to go walk outside to do some mindful breathing or just enjoying a walk during your workday.

Take care of yourself

It’s great you have been reading this article to get more knowledge about narcissists. Understanding them will help to cope with their behaviour. Knowledge will help you to trust yourself and not believe their blaming. It will help you with your doubts or insecurities they are possibly emphasizing with their behaviour.

In general, being around a narcissist will be draining and stressful and you can’t really be yourself. You are probably focused on self-survival and staying strong. Therefore, it’s important to have a counterbalance to this and to take care of yourself. Try to be kind and loving to yourself and give yourself credits for the work your doing. If you want to read more about self-worth and narcissism you can read this article I wrote.

I hope this article gives you some insights into the situation, helps your decision making and provides some tools to work on protecting your energy. If you like you can share your experience in the comments below or contact me!

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