Self-Preservation: How to Work with a Narcissist

Working with a narcissist is very difficult and given that we are living through a narcissistic epidemic, you probably work alongside one. If you let the behaviour of a full-blown narcissist get to you, it can wear you down, ruin your working life and impact on your mental well-being, both in and outside of work!

Self-preservation is key when you are spending long periods of time with someone who is so self-centred, they couldn’t give two hoots about you.

The first thing you need to do is understand how a narcissist operates. Then you can work on keeping the behaviours of your narcissistic colleague at arms’ length. You’ll be pleased to learn that while it’s unlikely you will change your colleague’s narcissistic tendencies, there are some things you can do to prevent his or her actions doing you psychological harm.

One thing is for sure. If you are working with a narcissist, you are probably working for a business with a toxic culture. Let’s take a look at the behaviours of a narcissist and how they impact on people in the workplace. If you feel powerless to change a toxic culture, looking for a new job might be your only option.

What exactly is a narcissistic personality?

Firstly, there are varying degrees of narcissism, but you can usually spot a narcissist a mile off. Full-bodied narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is actually rarely diagnosed by trained psychologists or psychiatrists. However, narcissistic personality traits are common and some can be found in many people to a greater or lesser degree.

Some narcissists are actually quite fun to hang out with, albeit occasionally. You probably know someone who likes to hold court and tell funny stories. They probably have a few narcissistic tendencies. But when narcissistic tendencies become unhealthy, such a person can become obnoxious to work with.

There are lots of tell-tale signs of a narcissistic personality. Here are some of them:

  • A grandiose sense of importance
  • Preoccupation with own success
  • Believe self to be special
  • Strong sense of entitlement
  • A need for excessive praise and admiration
  • Exploit others
  • Lack empathy
  • Arrogant
  • Jealous of others
  • Can’t take criticism, though heavily criticise others

How might narcissistic tendencies show themselves at work?

Almost all workplaces have at least one person who is slightly self-obsessed. At first the office narcissist can appear charming and charismatic, but you’ll soon get to grips with the fact that your colleague (or worse, boss) is concerned only with themselves. Incidentally, narcissists are more likely to be leaders and a moderate amount of narcissism can be a positive in business.

However, narcissism can easily hurt others and have a negative impact on business culture.

At work, extreme narcissists are only concerned with being at the top or being right. They need constant attention and validation and feel superior to their colleagues. Narcissists have a great need for control and take the credit for everything. They will also blame others for their own mistakes and can’t bear criticism.

They will hog the spotlight and dominate meetings, reminding the team of their accomplishments. Narcissists are also namedroppers, so they’ll be boosting their prestigious status by telling the whole office who they mingle with.

Perhaps the worst character trait of your narcissistic colleague is that they will steal or take disproportional credit for yours and other colleagues hard work and ideas. These are very frustrating people to work alongside, especially when that person is your boss. They will always cut corners and take advantage of the good nature of the people they work with. They truly think they are above the rules.

Some narcissists will display passive-aggressive behaviour and may over-accentuate weakness and victimhood to elicit sympathy. They can be gossips, sarcastic and often put others down.

One minute you will be your narcissistic colleague’s best friend, the next minute they will hate you (especially if you disappoint them).

How to work with a narcissist

The first thing you have to do when working with a narcissist is accept is that you are never going to change their personality. That may feel defeatist, but you don’t have to resign yourself to a life of misery at work. There are things you can do to minimise the impact your narcissistic colleague has on you.

  • Don’t be attracted to his or her charisma – they will have no loyalty to you
  • Don’t be drawn into competition with them or be tempted to get even
  • Never react with anger towards this person
  • Avoid challenging a narcissist
  • Have confidence in your own abilities and document your achievements at work
  • Don’t share personal opinions or give personal information to the narcissist
  • Understand your employment rights – harassment is unacceptable under the Equality Act 2010
  • Maintain your own self-esteem
  • Study them and play the game – if you know what the deal- breakers are, you can keep under the radar and predict how they will behave
  • Set your own boundaries and don’t doubt yourself
  • Compliment them
  • Remember narcissistic behaviour is dysfunctional – recognise the toxic dynamics

Dealing with extreme narcissistic behaviour isn’t easy and if you are faced with an unbearable situation at work, it may be time to move on.  An extremely narcissistic boss could cause you a lot of emotional and professional damage if you get on the wrong side of them.

Unfortunately, as narcissists will have established a charming relationship with any people in your organisation who have power over them, it is unlikely you will find the support to deal with them appropriately. It’s not impossible to work with a narcissist, but it is challenging.


Annie Button is a Portsmouth based writer and recent graduate. Annie likes to share her experiences and knowledge through her blog posts and has written for various online and print publications. When she’s not writing Annie likes cooking healthy new recipes and relaxing with a good book’. Twitter: Annie Button


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