12 Ways To Handle A Narcissistic Boss (And Get Ahead In Spite Of Them)

Leave or stay and deal. Either way, never give your power away to a narcissist.

narcissist boss Alexander's Images via Canva

You want to give your best work, be part of something meaningful, enjoy your colleagues, and achieve your career aspirations. Unfortunately, your workplace may not be conducive to that. And one of the most significant factors affecting your employment happiness is your boss.

Most people can tell you stories about a horrible boss. You're likely to have at least one in your lifetime. There is the micromanager, the absent boss, the workaholic, the means-well-but-couldn't-give-you-feedback-if-their-life-depended-on-it boss, and the unqualified boss.


Then, there is one that employees dread the most, but you might not have a label for it yet: the narcissist boss.

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Signs Of A Narcissistic Boss

If you think your difficult boss might be a narcissist, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they charismatic and charming when it's worthwhile to them?
  • Do love the sound of their own voice?
  • Do they take credit for your work when it's good?
  • Do they throw you under the bus when things go wrong?
  • Are you expected to work 24/7 at their beck and call?
  • Are they impossible to please?
  • Do they entirely lack empathy?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, you're likely dealing with a narcissist in the workplace. There are so many obvious signs of a narcissistic boss to look for, but there are also more more subtle signs:

  • They require praise.
  • They talk exclusively about themselves.
  • They fantasize about greatness.
  • They feel entitled.
  • They take advantage of others.
  • They're envious.

What is it like having a narcissist for a boss?

Having a boss that is a narcissist is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting.

The best-case scenario is you'll be riding a rollercoaster of hot and cold with periodic silent treatment. The worst-case scenario is that you'll become their scapegoat, a victim of a smear campaign or, even more severe, you'll lose your job.

You can try to beat them, but this psychic vampire will suck the life out of you. You may suffer anxious days and sleepless nights, trying to endure mistreatment and wondering if your boss will completely ruin your career.


What's an intelligent professional on the fast track to do? For starters, you need to learn what you must not do:

  • Criticize them.
  • Seek retribution.
  • React emotionally around them.
  • Tell them something personal or private that they can use against you.
  • Assume anything or take them at their word.
  • Try to compete with them.
  • Underestimate them.

Do any of the above, and you'll be up for an even trickier road ahead. That said, there is hope.

RELATED: 7 Signs You're In A Toxic Relationship With Your Job

Stop walking on eggshells and adopt these practical strategies to overcome your narcissistic boss:

How To Deal With A Narcissistic Boss

1. Tend to your health and well-being.

Fact: you will never be able to satisfy a narcissistic boss fully. Aren't you tired of reworking the same assignment? If so, decide how much time and effort you're prepared to invest.


Politely let your workhorse manager know what hours you can work. Don't apologize and certainly don't expect compassion; your work/life balance is of little interest to them.

Tell them only what they want to hear: that you are focused on excellence, just as they are. And when you're at your best — rested and recharged — you'll be able to give your best work.

Stick to your boundaries for the narcissist will continually test them. It's not worth it to burn out over this boss who will never have your back. Save your energy for landing your next job.

Invest in your overall health, too. Your body and mind may literally be in fight mode every day. Eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep so you can combat your narcissistic boss.


2. Keep your head down.

Reminding your boss about your impressive results will not open any doors for you or save you from the next verbal lashing. It's best to stay under their radar.

Focus on your performance, solve problems, and do great work. The narcissist will then have fewer things to criticize. Avoid office politics, and when you feel yourself getting sucked in, use the mantra "Stop! Stop! Stop!" Stay in your lane with your eyes on your career objectives.

3. Protect yourself.

Remember, a narcissist always has an ulterior motive: to stroke their ego and diminish your dignity in the process. They protect themselves and so must you.

Before you undertake any tasks, clarify expectations and leave a trail by recapping your conversation. When your supervisor later contradicts themselves, tactfully inquire, "Here's what we discussed last week. How has your thinking shifted since then?" Employ curiosity versus emotion and see what happens.


Most importantly, put your accomplishments in writing and copy others. It will make it harder for your boss to lie or take credit for your work. Besides that, do it to make yourself feel good. Create a success file of achievements that no one, not even a horrible boss, can take away from you.

4. Get what you want from the narcissist.

Concentrate on what you want instead of what you don't want.

If you happen to be on a high with a narcissist, use it as an opportunity to get what you can from them in the short-term. Ask for an endorsement on LinkedIn, a recommendation for a plum assignment, a raise, or even some time off.

Another way to get around a narcissistic manager is to apply for a lateral transfer. Be sure to convey that it's for professional reasons. Mention to your boss that it will showcase their hiring talent. Act quickly, though; the tide might turn faster than you can say "transfer."


Lastly, so long as it doesn't break with your integrity, offer your supervisor sincere flattery now and then. It will keep them in a decent mood and off your back!

5. Create strong relationships — inside and outside the organization.

Build a network of supporters, including senior managers and executives who can attest to your fine work and character, and who can help you grow your career.

If your organization has a formal mentoring program, get involved. If not, find your own mentor. Talk to people about what you are working on and get advice. Coffee meetings are an excellent way to create rapport and establish mutually beneficial relationships.

Maintain your external network, too. Enlist support from people you trust and lay the foundation for a job search or a legal battle in case things go sideways quickly. Anything goes with a narcissistic boss!


6. Do more of what you love.

Spend time with loved ones. Find a hobby. Blow off steam at the gym. Do more of what brings you joy. Don't make work your only source of self-worth and fulfillment.

7. Embrace your personal power.

Become fearless! Narcissists have a way of magnifying your doubts about yourself. Bolster your self-esteem. Remind yourself that their behavior has zero to do with you. Your boss has a deep-seated need to outshine and crush others.

The bottom line: never give your power away to a narcissist. Instead, drop the rope. Step back. Breathe. Cut off their oxygen supply of drama. The next time they make a snarky comment, stick to the facts and respond without any emotion. When you stay cool, they have no fuel.

RELATED: 5 Signs Your Job-Related Stress Is Actually Workplace Trauma (& What To Do Next)


8. Use compliments to your advantage.

Narcissists will do anything for praise. They live off of compliments. So, compliments can help you get what you need from your narcissist boss.

Use compliments as a way to lure or guide your boss into doing things you want or to make your life easier when dealing with them.

9. Use the BIFF method when interacting.

BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. Using the method means keeping all interactions between you and your narcissistic boss just that: “brief, informative, friendly, and firm.” Stick to that and your interactions should be smooth sailing.

Try not to get defensive or overshare; keep it sweet and simple. In other words, the less you have to say, the better. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."


10. Know when to say 'no' — and mean it.

It's important to evaluate and consider what you will and what you will not put up with. When a clear boundary is crossed, you must be firm in your rejection. That is, you need to say no with purpose.

Keep this in your arsenal and know when to pick your battles. Narcissists aren't just going to back down, so stay firm.

11. Go to HR.

Determine if there is a culture of narcissism at your workplace, or an isolated situation, which will considerably improve the chances of success at your current organization. If your manager is the culprit and you sense things have gone too far, consider raising your boss' conduct with a trusted HR person or leader.


No employee should be subject to unfair labor practices, bullying, or harassment of any kind. Your human resources department has an ethical and legal obligation to investigate and address these. The odds are, others have experienced similar poor treatment. Your complaint just may be the final nail in the coffin.

12. Decide whether it's time to leave.

In the end, you may conclude that getting out may be your best chance of getting ahead. And while you may be tempted to shout, "I quit!" and run for the door the next time you are chastised, acting in haste may hurt you more. Plus, you don't want to miss the satisfaction of handing your resignation letter to your narcissistic boss.

In executing a thoughtful exit plan, you'll need to be sure to do these things:

  1. Deeply explore what you want for your next role and organization, and enlist the services of a career expert to help surface your strengths, accomplishments, and contributions. This step is especially helpful when a narcissist has temporarily damaged your confidence.
  2. Enhance your resume and online presence with keywords that will signal what you'll bring to a prospective employer.
  3. Treat your job search like a project, setting aside time each day and holding yourself accountable.

Finally, no matter how desperate you may be to escape before you accept a new job, put on your best narcissist detector. Spare yourself the same grief next time.


Ultimately, overcoming a narcissistic boss is less about outsmarting them, and more about focusing on yourself: staying positive, feeding your soul, building connections, and making the call on what's best for you.

When you're in the driver's seat, nothing — not even a narcissistic boss — will get you down. Take what you can from this experience. You'll be stronger and wiser, ready to thrive in your work and lift your career to new heights.

RELATED: The Disarming Truth About Whether True Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists

Lisa Petsinis is a certified life coach who works with individuals to build lasting life skills like confidence and resilience and create more joy and meaning.