What to do if you work with a narcissist

The verdict is out, and it has been replicating itself over cultures like a broken record: narcissists are terrible for your business and bottom-line.

Sure they could be incredibly charming and know how to make use of people like moving pieces on a chessboard, looking like they do and achieve plenty— but the destruction they unleash is monumental.

In fact, having one narcissist in a high-performing team makes that team underperform when compared to a team of medium performers. That is before considering the damage you will have to clear up when they finally exit.

I work with high performers who are exiting narcissistic relationships, or navigating high-stakes court cases in the aftermath; as well as those who work with narcissists. From healing the trauma to playing metaphorical chess with narcissists, it is a mind-blowing field, with plenty of pain. And here is where we are going to minimise the damage, and then avoid further ones.

Why narcissists stay undetected.

Of course they are charming. They know who to leverage, what stories and lies to tell, whose thunder to steal. They are able to work people and then gain credit.

And they are excellent at sniffing out their victims— people who find it hard to say no because they are in a position of less power (within the organisation, or due to factors like ethnicity or sex or personal history), people who are over-responsible and will work four times as hard as others whilst blaming themselves for others’ mistakes, or people who have incredibly demanding lives in and out of work that they have no space to process what really is going on.

Plus we go to school and learn plenty of things— from DNA to poetry in mediaeval languages to binomial equations— but we never learn how to spot toxic people. A narcissist operates by micro-dosing transgressions. It starts so small and absurd that if you were to raise them, you look like you might be so petty. Over time, this trains you to accept more crappy behaviour.

And being very sophisticated at playing the short-term game, narcissists know how to hide in large organisations. They know how to pull the wool over someone’s eyes, and how to sow discord and play one person against another.

What to do, then.

First, it is not personal. The last thing you want to do is blame yourself, because that incinerates your energy. Forewarned is forearmed, so you know this person is bad, and that’s it.

Second, stop trying to beat them at their game. It is very easy to be angry or upset that a person can act this way. Understand, it has nothing to do with you, or human decency, if someone is incapable of it. They are wired that way, and that’s it. These are hard truths to accept. When upset, sometimes we try to outplay them. The deal is, they’ve spent their whole life manipulating and hurting others, and you haven’t. So the only way is not to play them at their own game. I think alot of the Taoist term 无为— inaction is a form of action.

Conserve your energy.

Third, stop trying to keep them accountable. Telling them, “you promised to ___” is only going to sucker you back. Their changes are piecemeal and transient, and you will pay dearly.

Fourth, expect bad behaviour and dismiss all good behaviours as flukes or ploys. That is self-explanatory.

Fifth, have a clear concise paper trail. Insist on that instead of verbal calls or meetings, which they may prefer because they can ramble on— they love the sound of their own voices. Or because they are unprepared and can steal your ideas and repackage them. At the end, send a very cogent follow up email re what was discussed, and how to go forward.

Sixth, tag team. You won’t be their only prey; many of my clients tell me they have their own support groups. In meetings, echo each other as you speak up re a certain point instead of allowing yourself to be talked over. Get support vertically and horizontally.

Seventh, find ways to bypass them. Maybe they work in another team you have to keep working with, or they are in yours. Create a procedure to bypass them, and show the business case (e.g. efficiency, time savings, ease) to your manager.

Eighth, figure out what your weak spots are that make you vulnerable. It might be old traumas, not knowing how to stand up for yourself, or having no space to process all these. Whatever it is, you can fortify yourself against narcissists. Sometimes we learn this later in the game, and we can catch up at warp speed.

Takeaway

It is easy to feel helpless and hopeless because they are everywhere– the stats say 1 in 10, I say way more. Even in positions where they seem to be helping people, and maybe. . especially in charities and spiritual groups, because they feed well there. The most important thing is, win the mental game within yourself and know which battles to lose so you win the overall war. You’ve got this.

Want to weed narcissists out before they come in; or strengthen yourself against one? Get in touch.