3 smart steps to deal with a narcissist coworker

Published on April 3, 2022
How to deal with a narcissist coworker

A little bit of narcissism at work is not a bad thing. Individuals who have acceptable levels of narcissism can be quite confident in their abilities. Their inflated self-esteem actually becomes a driving force behind their professional success.

But what happens when you are dealing with a narcissistic coworker who poisons the work environment through their behavior?

High levels of narcissism at work can be detrimental to a company. Some negative effects include workplace conflicts, low morale, lowered productivity, and communication problems.

This is not ideal and conducive to great work. That is why a timely intervention is essential. Here you will learn all about how to spot a narcissist at work and how to deal with them effectively.

What are the signs you are working with a narcissist?

Signs you are working with a narcissist

Essentially a narcissist is a selfish person who is highly self-centered. They tend to have a very high opinion of themselves and think that everything revolves around them. A narcissist is likely to neglect the needs of other people, putting their own priorities first.

But what happens when narcissistic behavior is brought into a work environment? Well, narcissism in the workplace is actually a recognized phenomenon. So how does a narcissist act at work? Here is how to spot a narcissist coworker based on their traits and behavior.

  • Arrogant demeanor
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Exaggerated self-image
  • Desire for admiration and praise
  • Lack of empathy toward colleagues/subordinates
  • Competitive behavior (desire to outperform)
  • Exploitation of colleagues/subordinates

These traits belong to what is known as overt narcissism – in other words, a classic narcissist. However, you might be surprised to find out that there are actually multiple types of narcissism.

It seems that there is an ongoing debate about this among experts but there are 4 other subtypes of narcissism that are usually given as examples. Understanding these subtypes will help you to deal with your narcissistic coworker.

Signs of malignant narcissist coworker

They are sadistic and derive pleasure from the suffering of others. Malignant narcissists are prone to aggression and taking revenge. They are also likely to break rules and breach company policy.

Malignant narcissists at work are bullies. They can be ruthless and brutal towards their colleagues. In a position of power, a malignant narcissist is essentially a tyrant. Having a boss or a manager like this can be incredibly stressful.

Signs of antagonistic narcissist coworker

The antagonistic narcissist is quite competitive at work. This means that they can be quite power-hungry. They are less likely to trust their colleagues which means that they might have a tendency to micromanage others.

An antagonist narcissist coworker is likely to engage in arguing and display arrogance, being critical of the work of other people. They would happily exploit others for their own benefit in order to further their own career and professional goals.

Signs of communal narcissist coworker

Communal narcissists present themselves as very generous and caring. They portray an exaggerated concern about the welfare of others. However, this is just a facade. What they truly value is social status and validation.

At work, these individuals can parade their moral compass and become outraged by views that do not align with their own. They have a twisted way of treating coworkers/subordinates “fairly” when in reality they are causing more harm than good.

Signs of covert narcissist coworker

This type of narcissistic behavior is essentially the polar opposite of the grandiose personality of a typical (overt) narcissist. It is also known as the vulnerable narcissist.

They can be seen as introverted, insecure, and misunderstood. They display low self-esteem and low self-worth. However, internally they think that they are better than everyone else.

A covert narcissist at work can be very defensive, sensitive, and passive-aggressive. They are not good at accepting feedback for their work and behavior. They can pretend to be victims and actively ignore colleagues that they don’t like.

How to deal with a narcissist coworker in 3 effective steps

How to deal with a narcissist coworker in 3 effective steps

How to work with a narcissist when they are constantly getting under your skin? Well, here are 3 simple steps that you can take when you are dealing with a narcissist in the workplace.

1. Determine what kind of narcissist you are dealing with

Observe your narcissistic coworker carefully during the next few days. Figure out if their behavior matches any of the archetypes outlined above. Understanding them is crucial in order to deal with them effectively.

2. Take action – make adjustments

If you are wondering how to defeat a narcissist coworker, then knowledge is your best advantage. By knowing their narcissism type, you will be able to predict their behavior. Here are the actions you can take against each manifestation of narcissism at work.

How to deal with an overt narcissist coworker

  • Don’t waste your energy arguing with them.
  • When a decision has to be made, try to stir them in the right direction.
  • Use subtle hints and suggestions to make it seem as if it was their idea.

How to deal with a malignant narcissist coworker

  • Block them on social media and avoid communicating with them when it is not necessary.
  • Point out to colleagues that you trust that they should be careful around said person.
  • Find out how to defeat a toxic narcissist at work in our guide on dealing with toxic coworkers.

How to deal with an antagonistic narcissist coworker

How to deal with a communal narcissist coworker

  • Avoid discussing social issues with them, remember they have very strong opinions.
  • They might attempt to show that you are not a morally good person.
  • Don’t take anything they say seriously, don’t give in to manipulations.

How to deal with a covert narcissist coworker

  • They are very sensitive so be careful when you give them feedback.
  • If they complain a lot, ask them about what they think are appropriate solutions.
  • If they ignore you, check out our guide on dealing with a coworker who ignores you.
  • They can be quite passive-aggressive as well so don’t give in to snarky remarks.

3. Take steps to protect yourself and your work

A narcissistic coworker can be quite vindictive and treacherous. You can’t trust them with anything, even if you think that you are in a good coworker relationship. So make sure to protect yourself and your work projects from them.

  • Think of all the ways they could cause you harm at work and take appropriate measures.
  • Don’t give them access to your computer, your phone, and your accounts.
  • Don’t give them access to your projects and your files. Always back up your work.
  • Be careful with any information that they give, always check for yourself.
  • Distance yourself from them. Both physically and emotionally.
  • Don’t take anything they say personally, don’t let them get under your skin.

How to expose a narcissist in the workplace

How to expose a narcissist in the workplace

The worst thing about dealing with a toxic narcissist at work is that if you try to discuss their behavior with them privately, they will likely see this as an attack.

Remember, they are not good at accepting feedback. That is why you need to make everyone else aware of the problem. Here are the steps that you can take to expose a narcissist at work.

1. See what your other colleagues think

The best way to expose a narcissist at work is to talk privately to colleagues that you trust. It is likely that they will share your views. Don’t feel bad about going behind the back of your narcissistic coworker because a direct confrontation will only cause more trouble.

2. Ask for an intervention

Knowing that your colleagues would back you up, ask an HR representative or your manager to have a talk with your difficult colleague. It would be best if an experienced manager who is adept at giving feedback handles the case.

3. Prove your point

Make sure to back up your claims with facts and examples. Don’t just throw empty accusations. If you give enough examples, an experienced manager/HR rep will be able to see that you are being truthful and addressing a serious issue at work.

Tell them that narcissism at work can become an obstacle to effective communication and productivity. That is why a timely intervention is best before things escalate to a serious workplace conflict.

4. Stay low

Don’t expose yourself as the person who reported your narcissistic colleague. It is likely that they will resent you for it.

Let’s hope that after the intervention, your coworker will start to behave more humanely. Here you can find out more about the most common types of difficult coworkers and how to deal with them.

How to ignore a narcissist coworker

Just because a colleague is difficult, it doesn't mean that you should ignore them when work is concerned. However, you can definitely take steps to distance yourself from them for your own sake.

  • Limit your communication to work-related matters and basic collegial politeness.
  • Block them on all social media channels that you use.
  • Don't argue with them because they would never admit to being wrong.
  • Don't waste your energy trying to make them see reason.
  • Focus on doing your own work and your own well-being.

Key takeaways

  • People who are highly narcissistic have inner struggles of their own so don’t be too harsh on them.
  • Workplace narcissism is a recognized phenomenon linked to negative effects.
  • Exposing them is for their own good as well. Don’t feel bad about going behind their back.
  • If they're being too toxic, sooner or later somebody else is going to raise the issue and file official complaints.
  • If you are the one to report them and ask for an intervention, you have the chance to approach the matter with kindness.
  • Working with narcissistic people can be quite stressful and tiresome, find out how to effectively unwind after work here.

Written by:
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Alex Alexiev
co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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