How to manage a narcissist in the workplace

Business psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw explains the signs of workplace narcissism and how to manage it

Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and behavioural change specialist explains how to manage a narcissist in the workplace today to ensure better productivity, teamwork and wellbeing.

Narcissism is a topic that’s not usually discussed in the workplace, however, its existence can harm teamwork, productivity and workplace wellbeing.

Considering this, it’s time for HR and leadership teams to understand how narcissism presents itself in individuals so they can get the most out of their working relationship with narcissistic colleagues and help teams work together more effectively.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterised by exaggerated feelings of self-importance and it often masks low self-esteem. Narcissistic people have a deep need for attention and admiration and exhibit behaviour that is self-centred, egocentric and selfish and act in an entitled manner.

It can be extremely difficult for others to cope with their sometimes toxic behaviour, and can affect the wellbeing of those around them and can lead to troubled or even abusive relationships.

There is an increasing belief that narcissism is growing, particularly in young people as a result of social media and materialism (see the work of Professor Twenge for more information), although other research doesn’t currently support this. As with any behavioural problem, there is a spectrum of severity.

Remember it’s a personality disorder

Recognising that narcissism is a personality disorder may enable you to replace frustration with a degree of empathy and compassion. It is important to remember that people with healthy egos do not behave like this. However, it is equally important to recognise that unacceptable behaviour is exactly that and it is not something you need to put up with.

Also, recognise their positive attributes. Everyone has something good about them so remind yourself of the positive qualities of this co-worker. For example, they may be very good at taking control of a difficult situation when others don’t want to put themselves forward.

Signs of a narcissistic individual in the workplace

  • An inability to accept the slightest criticism nor celebrate the successes of others.
  • They are always correct and won’t change their strong opinions, even if they are factually incorrect. An argument will usually be futile.
  • Inflated sense of entitlement.
  • Need for admiration, affirmation and praise from others.
  • Overly focused on self-image and often engage in role-playing can easily switch from vulnerable and wounded to aggressive and manipulative.
  • Disregard for others’ opinions, feelings and needs.
  • Focusing attention on the most powerful people in the organisation.
  • Making decisions unilaterally without consulting other colleagues usually for self-gain.
  • A know-it-all attitude, extremely competitive and bossy
  • Argumentative behaviour and talking over others.
  • Prone to meltdowns especially if someone is trying to address an issue.

6 ways to cope with a narcissist at work

1. Present options instead of conclusions to prevent resistance. Narcissists don’t like to feel they have benefited from someone else’s ideas or creativity. Explain how each of these options can personally benefit them.

2. Communicate assertively. Narcissists take advantage of those they perceive as weak but avoid being aggressive as they may become defensive if they feel they are being provoked or attacked.

3. Define expectations. Narcissists will continually test boundaries and see what they can get away with. Establish clear expectations, share them with the team and follow up on these regularly so that everyone is clear and other colleagues can support you when boundaries are pushed.

4. Communicate with others and have witnesses. If this co-worker asks to speak to you privately have a witness with you so they can corroborate your story if false accusations are made about you.

5. Report and document behaviour. Holding narcissistic staff members accountable is key to dealing with this trait. Consistently disciplining and tracking the performance of these members prevents the manipulation of you, the organisation and other colleagues within it. Alert management to any manipulative behaviour or excessive boundary-pushing.

6. Avoid personal conversations. Don’t divulge vulnerabilities as these could be used against you. Avoid conversations about other co-workers and any personal situations you are dealing with. Try to change the subject, walk away or talk to someone else. Avoid falling into their tangled web the purpose of which will be for self-gain.


Set yourself boundaries and stick to them. Narcissists tend to take advantage of others so set some clear parameters for yourself in relation to that colleague and stick to them. It is impossible to control someone else’s behaviour and feelings, but you can control your own.

Don’t take the blame on board. No matter what you are being told, you are not responsible for their behaviour. You be you and you look after you.

Dr Lynda Shaw is a professional speaker who offers individual mentoring, corporate consulting, corporate masterclasses and online programmes.

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