Twelve years ago, I attended a business meeting in Northern California with fellow colleagues from across the country. We were there to review our recent achievements and success as our national sales force had just completed our best quarter yet. Each of our regions had exceeded our quarterly quotas and we had so much to discuss and strategize for the upcoming months. As we were getting seated at the boardroom table with our cups of coffee and usual chatter, the leader of our team stood quietly at the head of it. Purposely commanding our attention with his silence and stillness. As our corporate ritual would have it, we copied his behavior and fell into the silence and stillness as well. Then came his opening words, “Who are we going to fire today?” Baffled, we exchanged looks and waited for one of us to speak up. Turns out we each had a chance to speak up because we were then asked to stand up in front of the table, present our sales teams, discuss who was the lowest performer, and why they should be fired.
This manipulative act was not a surprise to our group. I think we accommodated this environment because we didn’t know how to stop it, nor did we have a name for it. It was only years later that I realized there was a word for this level of bullying, shaming, and ranking. Narcissism. We were dealing with a narcissist, and through these interactions, he was getting his supply by creating a culture of fear and control.
How do you know if you are working for a narcissist?
- No Responsibility Taken
A narcissistic boss will never take responsibility for her actions in a challenging situation. Instead, she will deflect any ownership yet openly blame subordinates and colleagues to keep herself elevated and secure him in the organization. This technique is also referred to in narcissistic terms as gaslighting.
- Energy Vampires
You will find that narcissists tend to suck all of the air out of a room due to their self-inflated importance. These individuals can be recognized easily as that over-talker at the boardroom table or at a working dinner event. They don’t like to let others have space and tend to dominate conversations leaving others void of energy.
- Seek Supply
Narcissists are in constant need of adoration, validation, and control. They will achieve this in two ways. The first is through material items. Owning the best car, watch or house is extremely important to them and they will certainly let you know about all three. The second way of getting supply is by using tactics to achieve control through shaming, bullying, and ranking others. They love to create situations in which colleagues squirm and saturate in discomfort as it makes them feel more important and in control.
- Credit Thieves
They love to take your ideas as their own and at the same time will not give you credit for your hard work. This can be experienced as her slipping into your office to let you know the business presentation you submitted was only a C+, yet turn around and use it at a meeting without your permission and no trace of your name.
- Travel in Packs
The narcissist boss will never be alone. He will create a group of co-dependents that give him the glory and power needed to keep him in place. This group of flying monkeys will most likely travel from organization to organization together. By doing this he is ensuring his status and his pack ensures their next jobs.
So, now you know if you work for a narcissist. What do you do?
- Recognize the Moment
If you are repeatedly in moments of feeling shame and uncertainty in his or her presence, learn to recognize those feelings instead of accepting them as normal or just part of the job. Once you have this awareness you will know your personal and professional boundaries have been breached.
- Document Interactions
This may feel like work, but when you work for a narcissist you will need to document your interactions with him. Your documentation could be a simple follow-up email reminding him of your submitted vacation request form, to more serious documentation of an unhealthy situation with him that needs to be presented to HR. Either way, you will need to keep your own traceable arsenal should you ever need it.
- Support System
Interacting with a narcissistic boss daily can be a drain and it can be easy to lose perspective and self-confidence. Align yourself with like-minded individuals in your organization to help get you through the tougher times and help keep you afloat. If you are comfortable, express your concerns with your HR department for additional support.
- Avoid Sharing Content
Do not share personal information with the narcissist. What you say may be used against you in an unforeseen situation or behind your back. When you do interact with the narcissist, stick to informative and factual conversation. Furthermore, do your best to not spend time with them alone at their request.
- Find a New Job
Unfortunately, because many narcissists are in leadership roles, their behaviors are normalized. Upper-level management or those in the C-Suites have lost the ability to recognize their bad behavior. So, the narcissist may stay. Give yourself permission to leave in order to preserve your spirit and find a new role in a healthy workplace environment.