Working with ego-driven and narcissistic co-workers can damage us by killing our confidence. It’s distressing, it messes with our heads and makes us doubt our own judgement. It also introduces risks into teams because it creates silos, echo chambers, ethical blindness, discrimination, bullying and inequality.
And yes, it will make you angry. It’s an important emotion that’s telling you something important.
Being ego-driven or narcissistic
Call it the shiny thing, the resonance of my own voice filling the airwaves and all eyes/likes on me, that flashy latest gadget that just happens to be mine, the best holiday I am on or literally just come back from. And the only person who loves it the most is my own ego. If you ever thought or hoped I might notice you, you are sorely mistaken, my adoring friend. It’s not about you. It’s about me!
Also, FYI… (you should be writing this down)… You need to do a whole bunch of work for me and not expect any appreciation or thanks for it. And when I’m telling people how great I am, I wouldn’t risk pointing out that some other people actually helped me or that I have some details wrong. I’m on a roll so don’t interrupt my flow. Stay out of my way.
And definitely don’t contradict me because I will remember it and I will find a way to undermine you, deny you an opportunity, pick someone else to be on my team (someone who really adores me… until they start to see through me), rubbish you to your boss and the higher-ups, or, you know, point blank ignore you.
Receiving it (and getting sucked in)
Wow, such self-assurance. And everybody listens to you. Wish I could be like that. I’m going to stay close. If you’re going places, then I want to be there. Even if I’m just on the side lines, just a few sprinkles of your stardust land on me. What do you need doing? Hey, let me do that for you. It would be an honour. Oh wow, you had already picked me. Honoured x 2.
Hey, I saw this thing and I was thinking I could do… Oh, you want to do it? Okay, sure. Of course, no, really. I should have brought it straight to you in the first place. You’ll do a better job of it than me anyway. You’ve got that shiny stuff going on. I’m happy to just help you celebrate it. If you mention me… no scratch that, forget I even thought it. Shout if you need me.
Receiving it (and getting emotionally triggered)
What am I missing? Everyone thinks you are totally cool. But you’re a… I don’t know. What are you? Everyone rates you but I’m not seeing it. Am I jealous? A little. Would I want to be you? Hell no. It would mean I’d have to be uncaring, self-absorbed, shouty. I’d have to constantly talk about how awesome I am and make sure my boss sees no-one else except me when they’ve got that glitzy new role to fill.
So exhausting. I’m exhausted just being in your company. I’m exhausted thinking about the difficult conversations with you that I never get round to having. And you’re not even any good at your job. Can I say that? You’re incompetent. How can people not see that. The long hours I’ve worked fixing your shit… not even a 3 second mention. How do people like you exist? How do you keep rising through the ranks? What do I not get?
What am I doing wrong? Maybe I AM really jealous. No!! It’s not that. But why do I feel so discombobulated? I feel disrespected. Powerless. And it’s absolutely not how you should treat people. Why can’t I let it go? Maybe it’s me who’s crap at my job. This keeps happening to me. Maybe I’m being too sensitive. Why should I care? It’s just a job.
Whoa… did that just happen? You literally took credit for all of THEIR work. In front of the whole team. And no-one is saying anything. Should I say something? Maybe it’s just me. I imagined it. Oh no… you just did it again!! Seriously, is anyone else hearing this? You couldn’t be farther from my personal values of integrity, respect, collaboration or [insert personal value] if you tried.
Oh, I am gutted for my teammate. They worked all weekend on that. They missed their mum’s birthday to make sure our clients had what they needed for this week. I should have said something. I’m a rubbish teammate. I’m going to say something next time it happens.
And what I really want to say is “You’re a selfish, self-centred sorry excuse for a human being with not an ounce of empathy in your body.” (Yeah, let it all out. Expletives allowed. No judgement here. You’re angry and it’s okay to feel angry at the injustice.) But I can’t because that would mean lowering my own standards.
Okay, so now you’re blanking me because I sent out a group note thanking my teammate. I see how it is. Well, maybe you’ll change your attitude towards me once I get that… What? I’m not even being called for an interview?! But you are?! How does the **** does that happen?
Drop it. You’re never going to win. Not unless you’ve got Yoda on Siri-dial.
I wish I could tell you that there’s a high chance that things are resolvable but the stuff that makes narcissists un-coachable also makes the chances of alignment, resolution or mediation… mmm, how can I put this… err… impossible. (I politely decline to coach leaders who display strong narcissistic traits.)
But the good news is you’ve got two options
1. Stay and live with the insanity of the higher-ups not seeing what everyone else knows and lives through every day
The downside is even if you teach yourself to respond differently, the reality is you are scaffolding yourself or your situation. You’re coping, not thriving. The unjustness of what you experience and witness every day will cause you anxiety and upset. If you’re not in a position to influence a different outcome, you should seriously consider leaving if you value your happiness. While you have a narcissist in the mix, very little will change. And by the way, you have to ask why the higher-ups aren’t doing anything about it.
2. Find somewhere better for you and leave (in that order if you can)
And no, it’s not you who is the problem. There are a lot of ego-driven and narcissistic people around. Sometimes you need to be to survive or make it to the top because the culture is such that this is what gets rewarded, no matter how progressive the organisation’s policies are in writing. The reality is a very different picture and you have to decide if the fight is yours. It’s probably not your fight and it’s okay to say that. You have a lot to give. Somewhere else.
Leaving does not mean you don’t care about your teammates. It means you choose better for yourself. And you wish the same for them. But that is a decision they need to reach for themselves.
If they are good teammates, they won’t hold it against you for leaving. You might even be sending them the strongest signal you can to give themselves permission to choose better for themselves.
It is more than 200% okay to want something better for yourself, just as you would want it for your teammate. But YOU have to give YOURSELF that permission FIRST before you can commit to leaving and do your self-justice.
I feel like I should tell you to be patient, try to reach an understanding with them, use your negotiation skills. And yes, it can work. A little bit. Maybe. But the truth is, in the end, someone needs to decide they’ve had enough, that they’ve tried, and it’s time to choose better.