The nervousness, tension, and terror that Miranda Priestly, portrayed by Meryl Streep, causes in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” is all too familiar for some. Many narcissists rise to the top of the food chain with ease leaving a trail of destroyed relationships behind. When a narcissist sets their sites on executive status, they achieve it, but the cost frequently is broken connections with those around them.
The key to working with a narcissist is not in pointing out the narcissism to everyone in the workplace. This can be detrimental to career even when the narcissist fully acknowledges and is proud of their behavior. It is ok for a narcissist to point out their possible flaws (which really aren’t flaws to them), but it never ok for someone else to embarrass them.
Instead, the best way to survive to work with a narcissist lies in fully knowing yourself. Be aware of personal and professional strengths which could be seen as competition for the narcissist, and be equally sensitive to any weaknesses that a narcissistic personality may use as a point of vulnerability in the future. Here are ten other tips to remember.
- Stay cool. Regardless of the verbal threats, intimidation, gaslighting, twisting of the truth, or guilt-tripping, stay calm. Think of this as an exercise in self-control. It is much easier to respond strategically if emotions are tempered.
- Ignore aggressiveness. A common tactic of control is using aggressive body language because it makes a statement without saying anything. Examples include leaning forward, looking down on a person, physically blocking an exit, or puffing up the chest. Don’t call attention to it as that only reassures them that it is effective.
- Pause before responding. Take some time before responding to any demands. Even a short pause is effective. It is better to be seen as slow than making a quick forced decision. Narcissists like to use the need for immediate action (or a crisis) to bully others to their side.
- Talk quieter. The former United States President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s foreign policy advice of “speak softly, and carry a big stick” is perfect for dealing with a narcissist. “Carry a big stick” should be taken figuratively, however, not literally. The stick is for protection against an attack. Every narcissist has an area of insecurity which can be used for embarrassment when the narcissist takes things too far.
- Watch for a rollercoaster. Narcissists have a way of naturally doing a push away/pull in tactic. Their idealization of a person is quickly followed by devaluation, sometimes within the same sentence. Don’t get on their rollercoaster. Instead, refuse to agree with either in order to remain neutral.
- Check body language. Some people have natural tell-tale signs of anxiety such as pulling on the hair, picking the skin, turning red in the neck, or fidgeting. Narcissists have a keen sense for these signs and frequently use these exact moments to strike harder. Remember, they lack empathy so instead of restraining when someone is obviously nervous, they attack.
- Try to bond. Challenging a narcissist is the quickest way to instigate an immediate attack. Since they hate to be embarrassed, they are hypersensitive to anything that might make them look bad. Instead, try coming alongside them as a partner, this is received better.
- Set boundaries. Generally speaking, narcissists don’t respect boundaries initially. But when the boundary is consistent and enforced, they will eventually concede. So even if there is resistance, in the beginning, stay firm over a period of time and things will get better.
- Speak clearly. Trying to communicate with a narcissist can be frustrating because the conversation always seems to be redirected by them. Since there is a short period of time to communicate, speak clearly, and directly about what is needed. Any expectations or goals should be addressed as concisely as possible.
- Have an exit plan. If at any time there is an unsafe feeling when speaking with a narcissist, reach out to someone outside of the department. Talking to co-workers in the same unit will be interpreted by the narcissist as disloyal behavior.
While working with a narcissistic person can be frustrating and even scary, there are ways to manage to coexist peacefully, at the very least. Use these ten strategies to handle situations at work more effectively in the future so the narcissist doesn’t gain the advantage and you both have a better chance of working together.