6 signs you’re working for a narcissist

Unless you’re incredibly lucky, it’s likely you’ve worked with a manager you didn’t vibe with. Whether you approached leadership differently or your temperaments were not in sync, the off-kilter vibe can be a bummer. But there’s a difference between a mismatch — and a boss who takes it too far. If you constantly feel belittled, judged, demoralized and less-than, you could be working for the worst leader of all: a narcissist. 

As defined by Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert, this type of personality is self-centered, ego-driven and arrogant. Not only do they often lose their temper, but they are not particularly loyal to their employees, creating a problematic and stressful workplace. If you’re being managed by this type of professional, it could be time to look elsewhere for another gig. Or, come up with strategies to protect yourself from their rage. Here, clear sign you’re working for a narcissist: 

It’s about them, all the time. 

Ever have a conversation with someone and no matter how many times you try to express your thoughts, your current state or your ideas, somehow, the dialogue always returns back to them? Though in friendships or personal settings, this banter is accepted when a pal is going through a hard time, in the office environment, never-ever being heard is exhausting. Executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson shares that a narcissist doesn’t just want the first or the final word, but all of them, leaving everyone around them feeling dismissed. “They love to be the center of attention which can include ‘holding court’—telling stories while others listen,” she continues. “The subject of their stores may be how amazing they are, which often includes them over-exaggerating their accomplishments.”

Pearson says it’s unlikely you’ll change a narcissist, so it’s best to reshape your own perspective instead. Try to see them as an insecure person who is doing all they can — and then some — to feel better about themselves. This may help you to have a little more compassion, and perhaps, not lose your cool. Save your own stories for people who support and celebrate you.

They blame you — in public — for their mistakes. 

In the middle of a meeting, your boss gets questioned on an inaccuracy in a slide. Though it wasn’t your fault, he or she immediately places the blame on you, as their direct report. Hakim says this is typical narcissistic behavior since they are easily uncomfortable when they’re criticized, often turning the table on their employees, and even throwing ‘em under the bus. While you may not want to correct them in the moment of their own wrongdoing, it’s important to always document interactions, in case your manager’s leader asks questions. “Handle this by keeping an electronic paper trail of interactions with your boss. When your boss orders you to go against your recommendation, hold onto the proof that you are only following the boss’ orders,” Hakim recommends. “That way, if need be, you may defend yourself.”

They don’t deliver on their promises.

Another way that hard workers can turn into leaders is through professional growth from the inside out. This means having bosses who stand up for you, recommend promotions and always have your back, no matter what. What’s scary about a narcissist is that at first, they seem exactly like the type of manager you want to have. Pearson says they are super-likable, charismatic and persuasive, so they make great first impressions and often get others to believe in them and their ideas. But really, they’re running a master manipulation that isn’t apparent in the beginning. 

“Narcissists often lack the goods to be able to follow through on their promises. Without the substance needed to deliver their big ideas — they often leave a trail of broken promises, disappointment results, and unmet expectations,” Pearson explains. If you feel like your next-in-charge has been stringing you along for years, ensuring you better days are coming, it’s probably time to cut your losses. The hard truth is, they’ll likely never be who you thought they were when they romanced you into the job.

They take credit for your ideas.

A few days ago, you recommended a different tactic than what your boss strategized. They rolled their eyes and kept talking about their way-or-the-highway, and you thought it was a moot point. Until, of course, you see your idea in their presentation, giving themselves credit for your genius. Ugh. “In the age of mansplaining and man-terrupters, this can seem not as much of an offense. But, this is huge. It’s the number one way to damage one’s career,” explains Joy Altimare, chief engagement, and brand officer at EHE Health. Narcissists are likely to do this, since they have very little if any, respect for other people. They are happy to steal what they want, and likely won’t make apologies for it. As Altimare says, a confident manager will give credit to the originator, understanding that it’s a collaborative team process rather than a solo endeavor. 

Again, this is where meticulously recording your work and following-up with recaps of discussions can leave a paper trail. Though it may not work, at the very least, it encourages others within the company to encourage proper acknowledgment when and where appropriate. 


They can’t take criticism.

Though your narcissist boss will step up to the podium to dish out critiques of everyone else, Pearson says they can’t handle it when their abilities are called into question. This is because they have a ‘it’s you, not me’ mentality toward everyone, along with an ego so big, it’s always about to pop. “A narcissist considers themselves perfect, so they will almost rarely take accountability for any perceived shortcomings or mistakes,” she explains.

When you’re faced with a situation where your boss definitely needs to improve so you can meet company goals? Pearson says to take out the training gloves since you’ll need to pull out the good ‘ole compliment sandwich. This means starting with a compliment, then a critique, and finally, another compliment. “If you can start and end the conversation on a high note, they are much more apt to take the criticism without major pushback,” she recommends.

You never want to be the center of attention. 

Professionals flourish when they feel valued, respected and appreciated by their manager, colleagues and company as a whole. In a positive environment, you look forward to your turn to speak, and you are excited to brainstorm with your team. However, when a narcissist is at the helm, you may be anxious to be in the hot seat. How come? You know what’s coming — and it isn’t pretty. They will likely nitpick everything you do, give negative feedback, and make you feel anxious. “Employees who work for narcissists try to stay below the boss’ radar, so as to avoid a barrage of questions and accusations,” Hakim shares. “Handle this by staying on top of work-related deliverables. Over-communicate so that the boss isn’t questioning your output. Save questions for those items that you truly cannot answer without the boss’ help.”