How to deal with a narcissist in the workplace: 4 Tips you must try before you resign!
A narcissist (or a bully( at work can make your life a living hell. I know, because I’ve worked with clients who have shared their horror stories with me. Narcissists often show up in the workplace, and to make matters worse, they are often in positions of authority.
One of my clients was so traumatised by narcissist at work, that she had to leave her job and was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. This is a smart, gorgeous, intelligent woman who has a highly successful career. But her days were filled with dread, she was suffering with anxiety, shakes, nightmares, anger, and her weekends were awash with misery as all she could think about was how much she dreaded having to go into work on Monday morning. She even developed panic attacks that led to several hospital visits. She felt that she'd lost herself and wondered if she'd ever get over it, and feel happy and normal again.
Events escalated to the point that she had to leave her job because she just didn’t know how to deal with this female narcissist, and she couldn’t take another day of stress and anxiety. So she spent the next year working from home, and then a great opportunity came up that she couldn’t turn down. So she went back to work. And guess what happened? She walked slap bang into another atrocious narcissist, who started to undermine her and question her authority from the get-go.
This client reached out to me and said she needed help. She said she simply did not have the emotional strength to deal with another narcissist and she was still suffering daily with anxiety from the final episode with the previous one – an episode that almost led to a physical attack that left my client an emotional wreck. But I assured my client that she would not have to go through this emotional turmoil again, and not only that, but I would be able to help her deal with the fallout from the previous narcissist. Now we did this, in an in-depth, deep-dive coaching session, where I was able to help her completely change her memory of the event, and literally rid her of the panic attacks in one session. We then worked on deeper issues and uncovered childhood trauma that was still governing her limiting beliefs and lack of self-worth. In just a few short weeks, the transformation she saw and felt in herself was incredible. She took action at work but on realizing that no one was prepared to do anything to change the situation, she left the job and found another one.
Bullying in the workplace can take many forms: you’re asked to do unreasonable amounts of work, you have work landing on your desk that is not part of your job description, you find that the abuser is taking credit for work you’ve done, you’re being passed over for training or promotion by a person who has authority over you but no real reason to deny you this progress, you’re being ignored or put-down in meetings, or you’re being constantly picked on, threatened with the sack, and your work is being deemed below par – even when this is not the case, and so on.
It's important to know that you are not powerless and there are steps you can take to address the issues. So, before you hand in your resignation letter, I want to give you 4 practical tips that you can try if you are dealing with a narcissist or bully at work.
Now firstly, if this is a brand-new situation, you can nip it in the bud very quickly – it’s a little more difficult if you are in an established ‘bullying relationship’, but nevertheless, some of these tips can still help you enormously.
Tip No 1
Is to understand this: Narcissists and bullies are emotionally dysfunctional people who have usually become so due to a sad childhood and they bully others to make themselves feel better. They are suffering with extreme low self-worth and they bully others to assert themselves and to feel superior. Narcissists believe they are superior to everyone else, no matter their position in a company, so they will consider all rules as applying to others and not to them. Now I’m not saying that you should feel sorry for them, absolutely not because their behaviour is unacceptable. What I am saying is that if you start thinking of them as sad, lacking in self-worth, dysfunctional people, instead of powerful bullies who can make your life a misery, that immediately disempowers them in your mind.
Taking it a step further, consider what it would be like to be inside their heads. Wouldn’t it be just awful to have to constantly pick on, belittle, criticize and undermine another person every day just to feel good about yourself? Doesn’t that make you see them in a very sad light?
Now shine that light in on yourself, and acknowledge that you are a very good, decent person who would never treat another human being that way. And allow yourself to feel good about that. Allow yourself to feel a LOT bigger and better than the bully. Because you are! Don’t let their atrocious behaviour reflect on who you are.
Tip No 2
So the next thing you can do when the bully starts in on you is immediately remember what I’ve just said about them, and then say to yourself in your mind ‘I’m not going to let this sad person upset me’. Ground yourself in the reality that this person is the one with the problem, not you, and that nothing he or she says is going to ruffle your feathers. Ground yourself in that reality, because that's the truth here.
The narcissist/bully is always looking for a reaction from you… they want to see that they can hurt or upset you. If you deny them that pleasure, you rob them of their power, so work on your poker face. Stand up for yourself. Tell them calmly that the way they are talking to you is unacceptable. This might be tough if they are your boss, but being your boss does NOT give them the right to scream or shout at you. Not in any company, no matter where it is. Then, if they keep on ranting, turn around and walk away from them. Do NOT stand there and take their abuse. This also disempowers them to be left there talking to your back as you walk away. They’re going to look stupid and there’s nothing a narcissist likes less than being made to look like a fool.
Tip No 3
The next thing you can do is start documenting the abuse. Write down what they said, what you said, how they acted, and if any witnesses were present. Add the date, time and place. Keep any emails or other communication that might prove the abuse. Another thing you can do is have a voice recording app on your phone. Record the abuse. Now before you say ‘that’s illegal!’ – it’s actually a grey area and in some cases, a recording can be used as evidence, in others, it has been inadmissible in employment harassment tribunals. Technically you’re supposed to tell the person you are going to record the conversation AND get signed consent. But let’s face it, no narcissist or bully is going to sign this consent form. However, most people won’t realise this. What you can do, if they start being abusive is hold up your phone and say “The way you talk to me is not acceptable. I’m going to record you and report you to HR.” This will often be enough to stop them in their tracks, or at least, throw them OFF track. You should also talk to your HR department and ask them what is the company policy on recording abusive people at work.
Tip No 4
The next thing you can do is look around you at work. Bullies don’t operate in a vacuum… their MO is to find someone to be bullying most of the time, and before you came along, there was probably someone else in their crosshairs. And when they lose interest in you they will find someone else to target. They can’t help themselves… it’s their life-blood. They have to keep doing it to validate their own worth. So, look for allies in the workplace. More often than not, everyone will know that the bully is a bully but few people will have had the courage to do anything about it. You’ll often learn that people have left the job because of the bully. You can be the person to change that. If you can get support from others, get it documented, signed and take the case to Human Resources. They have a professional obligation to do their jobs and uphold the company’s policy of providing a safe working environment for their employees. Dig out the company HR Policy. There is bound to be a clause in there about bullying. Use it! File a formal complaint and see what your company is prepared to do about it.
Now these four tips are not exhaustive by any means. Bullies come in many shapes and sizes, they use different tactics, and some companies are not as on the ball as they should be when it comes to stamping out bullying, and the bully could be (and often is) in a supervisory or managerial role over you, which makes it harder for you to deal with them, but these four tips can definitely help you to make a start on putting an end to the bullying. No one deserves to be traumatized at work on a daily basis, and the moment you decide to stop accepting the treatment is the moment you start taking back your power.
So I hope you found those tips helpful, and are ready to try them out if you are being bullied at work. In the end, if you don’t get the results you are seeking, find another job and quit this one, as my client did. Sometimes, that really is the only way, but it will give you peace of mind to not have to face the nonsense every day, and you will have taken decisive action to protect your mental wellbeing.