Have you had the misfortune of working for a narcissistic boss? While it’s important to avoid armchair diagnostics, traits like a lack of empathy, an inflated sense of importance and a deep need for admiration do fall under the umbrella of narcissism, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your boss taking credit for your ideas, publicly belittling your performance, not listening to your suggestions, making pointed jokes, excessively complaining about her issues but not treating you with empathy when you’re struggling, or blaming you or others are examples of those traits in action, according to HR and recruitment professional Alexandra Cannistraro.
Needless to say, this type of situation can really spoil your experience in the workplace. But no need to panic just yet — there are a few things you can do to deal with your bad boss.
First, give yourself a morale boost. “You are not failing and you have value. Toxic and narcissistic bosses will always try to make you perform ‘better’ and will not appreciate your efforts. That doesn’t mean you’re doing a mediocre job, it just means they’re either unable or unwilling to see it,” says Cannistraro.
Now exhale, and check out those five effective ways to neutralize your narcissistic boss so you can improve your mental well-being, which is always priority number one.
1. Set boundaries
“Set boundaries with what you’re willing to do and with your time,” says Cannistraro.
“Narcissists have spent a lifetime learning how to devalue and take advantage of others,” according to Psychology Today. So it’s absolutely critical to set healthy boundaries before your boss starts taking more and more of your energy.
Of course, this might be easier said than done given the power dynamic. And narcissists don’t like being told no and are likely to try to make you second-guess yourself. Arming yourself with this knowledge is not meant to scare you but empower you since you can anticipate your boss’ potential response and be prepared to stand your ground politely but firmly.
“I will prioritize X over Y, then,” is a good starting point when your boss is being unreasonable about your workload.
You can always suggest alternative meeting times if you start being booked too often and can’t focus on your tasks. As far as after-hours calls or emails, unless there is an emergency, don’t feel bad only replying the next business day.
When all else fails, feel free to walk away and say you have to go. You don’t need to tolerate destructive interactions — simply excuse yourself and leave.
2. Back yourself with stats
Cannistraro says one of the best tools to neutralize a toxic boss is to use cold-hard facts.
“If your performance is based on metrics, have those handy to refer to the reality and not [your boss’] perception,” she says.
If you’re dealing with a narcissistic boss, it’s super important to document everything and keep track of your performance in the event she decides to try to undermine your credibility.
Try not to get in the mindset of constantly watching your back, as that will only exacerbate the impact of your boss’ toxicity on your mental health, but do use those stats as reminders of your positive contributions on tough days.
3. Stroke their ego
While the tactics above are more defensive, you can always go on the offense and stroke your boss’ fragile ego.
“Narcissists feed on ego. If they like having their ego stroked this can actually be very effective, according to psychologists,” says Cannistraro.
Being fake is not a good feeling, so maybe try finding a few actual positive things about your boss (there must be something) that you can bring up in conversations to help keep the mood positive.
4. Stay detached
Whatever you do, try your best not to let your boss get to you. It can be super difficult to let toxic behaviors roll off your back, but it’s a really effective strategy for neutralizing a narcissistic boss.
Why? “Narcissists are good at getting a rise out of people and use that emotion against you,” says Cannistraro.
So the more you react, the more you feed them ammo. “Try to avoid being sucked into your emotions and keep yourself grounded in the facts of the situation.”
5. Quit your job
At the end of the day, no job is worth your health and if the situation with your boss is becoming unbearable, sending you on the verge of burnout, or costing you your quality of life, it might just be time to move on and look for something else.
“If all else fails, look for a new job. There’s no need to tolerate that situation if you don’t want to and bosses are key in whether you’ll be happy at work or not,” says Cannistraro.
They do say that people don’t quit a job — they quit a boss.