How to work with this prima donna
June 23, 2011 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Dealing with a narcissist - how? Whether he meets the criteria or not, how do I work with someone who only sees his point of view, manipulates facts, takes credit, and backstabs?

Co-worker seems to be a narcissist
Exaggerates achievements and talents, e.g. describes minor scripting as "writing code," describes minor favors/tasks as "saving the day."
Requires constant praise, expects favorable treatment and agreement with his preferences. Rules don't apply to him.
No interest in the feelings or needs of other staff. Believes other staff are envious of him, believes other staff are less talented/intelligent/capable.
Arrogant, can't bear disagreement, perceives discussion of his preferences as an attack, persistently angry, but will not discuss problems, believes he holds power over others.
If he has any part in any success, he claims credit, if anything goes wrong, he ducks responsibility, spreads blame.

I have to be on a team with this person. Management is probably aware, but not going to address the issue. I need coping strategies.
posted by Mom to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Pity. Lots of pity.

Seriously, everyone knows what a twit this guy is. Doing anything to draw attention to his already-attention-seeking behavior will only make you look bad. Just do your own work and let it speak for itself.
posted by Madamina at 6:08 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding pity. His anxiety about himself is so high that he needs constant reassurance. This sort of person is so desperate to be loved, that a little flattery makes them dance.

His ability to project a sense of entitlement and grab the credit might carry him, and he probably lacks the empathy not to be a giant jerk, but passing along good stuff that other people said about him is a good temporary bribe to shut him up, though you may need to re-frame neutral stuff positively.
posted by Phalene at 6:22 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Vent privately, never come down to his level.
posted by Zophi at 6:22 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I pity you -- I have been in the same situation, except the person was my boss, so it was extra awful. I did as much research as I could on "narcissistic personality disorder" particularly in work situations. It helped me to understand how to deal with them day to day. It was never easy, but there are techniques and things to keep in mind that can make it a little better.
posted by la petite marie at 7:10 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Focus on the work. Don't take him seriously. Remember that narcissists tend to be miserable. Think of him as an annoying robot who feeds on praise.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:11 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

If this guy is as transparent to everyone as you suggest in the question, I would nth all of the advice above. However, some of these types are quite good at putting their best face on for the higher ups- in which case pity and nose to the grindstone might not be enough. If he is kissing enough ass and occasionally stealing a word with management here and there to talk about how hard he worked on the project, how much he contributed, etc., and, by the way, OP was really a deadweight on the team, you can't just let that happen. How to manage this type of thing will depend on a lot of variables specific to your office- but everyone is right to suggest that you absolutely cannot go gutter fighting. Consult with sympathetic co-workers, keep notes on his more egregious stuff, and be very, very calm and deliberate in your decision making about what you do. Management never, ever wants to have to deal with this type of shit- especially if they already think he's a star.
posted by jimmysmits at 8:42 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

You can turn their insecurity to your advantage by playing a maternal (hah, Mom) role, gently correcting them while still showing you care about them and their contributions. Touching somebody while making an important point can work wonders. Insecure people are extremely loyal once you show you are committed to them.
posted by blargerz at 9:43 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jimmysmits may well be right. In my experience these types of people tend to at best get promoted, at worst get promoted over the bodies of their co-workers they talked shit about and got fired.

If he seems a harmless buffoon type, ignore. But if he's dangerous, you need to do as jimmysmits says and fight back. Never ever underestimate the foolishness and shortsightedness of management when it comes to judging employee performance.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:01 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Jimmysmits is right. This is a problem that I'm increasingly unable to look away from and I've reached a point where I'm no longer willing to listen to platitudes, but templates for meaningful action are hard to come by.

You really can't underestimate these people even if they come across as ridiculous. I've seen extremely transparent buffoons, with terrible reputations, nonetheless succeed in maliciously misrepresenting people's performance and publicly laughing as they watch their victim get fired. I am in no way exaggerating or speaking figuratively. I have literally watched management sit there with tears in their eyes as they fire someone while the seemingly non-credible narcissist, who supposedly is much lower down in the hierarchy with no apparent power to make anything happen, sits there laughing. Even getting the narcissist's incriminating statements retracted didn't change anything. All right then, you didn't staple farm animals to the CEO, but you're still getting fired.

The problem, I think, is a lack of effective ways to deal with these people. I was just thumbing through "The Sociopath Next Door" and it remarked that, even when these people are exposed, no action is ever taken against them and all their coworkers do is watch them drive away. I don't think it's remarkable that coworkers do nothing, I think what's remarkable is that, when coworkers look into taking action, they find that in practice nothing can be done and that they have only theoretical protection under the law.

Really, I wish we could ignore these people, but every time I've done so I've ended up underestimating a serious threat. A whole community can agree that the person is a buffoon and a destructive force, and still facilitate them in getting their way. Everything in society is constructed to make sure these people can do whatever they want.

All I can suggest is documenting things in a nonemotional way, and maybe if it comes to a confrontation, the documentation could help. But based on my experience you can't count on that.
posted by tel3path at 1:12 AM on June 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

I was recently at a workshop discussing issues like this. The speaker recommended the book Toxic Workplace as a good one for providing strategies to cope with just this kind of stuff. I haven't read it myself (I'm really lucky to have absolutely wonderful colleagues), but several other people there also chimed in to say they had found the book really helpful.
posted by goggie at 5:55 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing jimmysmits and tel3path. These people are the operatives of chaos in the workplace, as it's the most effective way for them to get ahead. They will sow seeds of discord and then duck around the infighting to get promoted. I've run into two so far in my working life, and I hope never to have to deal with one again.

One coping strategy is to put your head down and not get involved. The result, as jimmysmits and tel3path have noted, will likely be that he gets promoted beyond his level of competence and will cause more chaos the further up the chain he gets.

If you want, take it upon yourself to try and mitigate the effect he has in the workplace. It should never be a head-to-head fight, always be scrupulously professional. In meetings, invite other participants to weigh in on the issue being discussed, rather than letting him take the floor all the time. Acknowledge those things that he does contribute to the team, but make a point of acknowledging the work of all members of the team. Try to get roles and responsibilities clearly documented. Institute a democratic process for making decisions if it looks like he's railroading the project with his preferences.

There will come a time when it becomes necessary to speak to management about his behaviour. When that time comes, never muckrake or anything, don't ever fight in the gutter, don't ever make it about personal conflicts in the office. Make the issue entirely about the project. Flag problematic behaviour as potentially derailing the project. And here's the most important thing of all: show management what you've done to try and address the problem within the team, document everything. Show them your roles and responsibilities document, show them your records of decisions, noting the votes of the team. You can then say, we've tried these things, they didn't work, we regretfully have to involve management now. If you have everything documented, management can actually do something with that, rather than just the hearsay and whispers that narcissists tend to use.

The drawback of this approach is that he may identify you as a "problem" and you will be targeted for tarring and feathering if he does have management's ear. The positive aspect of always being professional is that even if he slings bullshit at you, you will come away smelling like, well, maybe not roses, but say, a freshly-mown lawn. Management hates having to deal with personality conflicts in the office, but loves someone professional who's willing to step up and attempt to deal with the problem. Not only will you learn some important leadership skills, management will notice that you took the initiative.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 6:58 AM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Keep a sense of humor about it (to yourself of course to remain diplomatic and graceful in front of others) to help yourself deal with it. Also echoing the pity.

The beauty of narcissists is that they oftentimes operate with such blinders on that if you just let them go and do their puffed-up thing, their actions and ridiculousness just speaks for itself. Chances are your _other_ co-workers are thinking along the same lines as you, they're just not saying anything (again, to remain diplomatic and graceful in front of others).

When you leave the office, try to leave all of your frustrations about this idiot at the office if you can. I know it's hard, but it helps. Also: exercise.
posted by floweredfish at 8:29 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re: spreading blame -watch out for this and be obvious about keeping a notes on your dealings. It'll keep the narcissist slightly off-balance and more circumspect.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:00 AM on June 24, 2011

If you read Hare's Checklist at the bottom of this page does it sound like him?
posted by dgeiser13 at 11:08 AM on June 24, 2011

Flag problematic behaviour as potentially derailing the project. And here's the most important thing of all: show management what you've done to try and address the problem within the team, document everything.

This x1000. LN is absolutely correct. Document everything. Any verbal communication needs to be followed with an email as well.

"Hi X, I'm just sending a confirmation reminder about the conversation we had earlier today. You mentioned you'd be able to finish Project X by Y date. Please let me know if anything changes, otherwise I'll go ahead and mark you down on the schedule for that."

If you have anyone else on the team who might be an ally on this, also have them document everything. Also have them send cross emails to you - "Mr. X said you asked me to take over this part of the project? What part of this should I handle? Etc?" - all of these being put as official professional communications, but documenting everything.

these people tend to lie egregiously and while the evidence is obvious, they often use a combination of:

a) Sheer audacity in their lying
b) Distraction by attack - point out/make up faults for others, get them fighting, get them fired, "You promised me X" lies
c) Pity -excuses, breakdowns into tears

to prevent getting called on their shit.

If management won't act, consider going to HR.
posted by yeloson at 12:44 PM on June 24, 2011

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