American culture loves narcissism. Our society values people who brag about themselves--their accomplishments, their travels, and their knowledge--because it gives people a sense of hope that they too can achieve success, and provides them an opportunity to temporarily forget their own shortcomings.
Charismatic, confident individuals know how to capture attention and inspire others, which is one reason they do well in business. Combine this bravado with the desire or willingness to take advantage of others and you have the perfect recipe for maximum profits and a bottom-line-driven mentality.
The major downside of narcissistic leaders is that they don't always make the best bosses. They frequently blame others, come off as overly harsh, or won't even acknowledge your existence. Other times they make you feel like an object--a toy that they can control--rather than the unique person you really are.
These relationship difficulties are inevitable. Because many individuals have narcissistic traits, it's important for you to learn how to navigate these sometimes difficult workplace relationships.
Here are seven ways to survive your narcissistic boss and deal with big egos.
1. Know that the bold front is armor to protect against insecurities.
When you understand that the origin of narcissism is childhood injury caused by caregivers who were either too busy or too disinterested in certain aspects of their child's life, it gives you power. This awareness allows you to simultaneously see the strong impermeable outer shell and acknowledge the presence of a deep, hidden, and unresolved emotional injury.
2. Don't take their dismissiveness personally--it's not you, it's them.
One mistake most people make is assuming that they are doing something incorrectly that is causing their narcissistic boss to overlook or dismiss their good work. While you may have areas of continued growth, it's actually their style of relating to others that is having the biggest impact in your relationship. Keeping people at a distance allows them to feel safe and powerful, which is something they need to feel confident in themselves.
3. Recognize that they need to be the center of attention--and that's okay.
Yes, sometimes it can get annoying to see your boss run the show, but your frustration at that is a sign of your own need for validation. Allow your boss to be the center of attention, and give them the encouragement they seek. It's okay to go with the flow of these interactions as long as you don't have to sacrifice too much of your emotional wellbeing in the process.
4. Be strategic (and gentle) with your feedback.
When people don't feel heard, they either become louder or they back off into their own worlds. The best approach in this situation is to first recognize that your feedback likely won't be taken seriously if it doesn't conform to your boss's perception, and second, to recognize the importance of treading lightly when people are insecure. Do your best to provide honest and strategic feedback that takes into account their perceptions and isn't aggressive.
5. Avoid getting caught in the cycle of blame, but stand up for yourself.
Find a balance between accepting responsibility and maintaining your integrity. It's important to avoid blaming others after receiving criticism, and equally challenging to avoid accepting too much responsibility for things outside of your control. Search for a way to hold yourself accountable while also doing your best to help others do the same.
6. Don't expect to feel emotionally supported--get that elsewhere.
If your boss is narcissistic, chances are that you'll only feel close to them when discussing their problems, difficulties, or positive exploits--not yours. These one-sided relationships are often difficult to maintain, unless you have narcissistic or dependent traits yourself. Learn as much as you can about yourself from these relationships, and do your best to get your needs for support met in other more balanced friendships.
7. Challenge yourself to practice compassion.
Be compassionate with yourself as you learn to navigate complex workplace dynamics, and be compassionate with your boss who may look confident, but under the surface feels a deep sense of insecurity.
In a world full of narcissistic injury, it's up to all of us to become aware of our own personality traits, accept responsibility for our shortcomings, and work to heal others and ourselves.