Toxic Office? The Narcissist is Everyone’s Problem

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It’s best to uproot a source of illness rather than treat symptoms and the same is true for toxicity at the office. This eloquent article about how to deal with the boss from hell, places onus with the employee to respond to symptoms.

But why ask employees, already under stress and living in fear of a misstep, to further compensate for a boss’s fear-based managerial dysfunction rather than dealing directly with the source of the toxicity? Why take a circuitous route rather than a direct flight?

Uproot Narcissism, Remove Toxicity

The single greatest contributor to toxicity in the workplace is the narcissist. The lead paragraph in this BBC article refers to a manager who sought to prove his staff wrong any chance he got, the telltale sign of a narcissist and a pinnacle example of dysfunctional supervision.

Other office types are relatively benign. The office procrastinator? Harmless; they’ll eventually pull through. Passive aggressive? They have empathy and can improve performance through clarity in guidance. A workplace gossip? No need to get sucked in.

But the narcissist? They steep in a noxious league of their own. The narcissist generates fear, anxiety and uncertainty within the workplace. He encourages triangulation among employees and ultimately creates an unapproachable demeanour, where colleagues feel suspect and pitted against each other.

And there is more: The office narcissistic lacks empathy and offers no validation of your experience: He is always right and when pushed, you are to blame should you not agree. Narcissists are a maddening lot who, when in supervisory roles, often create a golden child employee who affirms their every word as well as scapegoats, those, while talented and capable, dare to have input, ask questions and assert themselves.

The Narcissist Follows You Home

This toxic office brew further generates stress that is not easily turned off once you return home. When the majority of our day is spent hardwired to anxiety and fear, the brain’s pathway to negativity is reinforced and gaps, literally, shorten until we become hardwired to the oppressive experience.

Often, we feel powerless and we are left with little outlet but to complain, for we need to share and speak with others who understand and empathize. According to science, however, this need to share just makes us feel worse.

Once we are aware of the source of toxicity, it seems so obvious to call out the narcissist. However, a quandary prevails in that the narcissist is often dominant and compelling in expression. He feels entitled to state his opinion and belief at every turn. She steamrolls her directives and gets things done. She presents herself as above reproach, which serves as convenient boundary to reinforce her rightness, and her supervisor, busy with his own responsibilities, places high value on financial result and overlooks her shortcomings.

Is Narcissistic Bravado of Greater Value than Enhanced Health & Productivity?

We have moved to an era where conscious companies are held in high regard and publications rank top employers in the UK, the U.S. and other countries.

Companies recognize that mindfulness programmes; collaborative, supportive office environments; and movement within a collective yes, rather than an oppressive no, is healthy for business, staff, families and communities. Read more about the effects of no on the brain here.

Yet, well-meaning, visionary companies still have relatively little awareness of the effects of narcissism. The office narcissist will spend his last breath deflecting his responsibility, yet awareness steadily grows. As we uncover this festering source of office anxiety and fear, we transform businesses and create healthy work environments, enhance employee satisfaction, and, ultimately, create healthier families and communities while bolstering the bottom line.

From Oppression to Creative Collaboration

Many therapists share that the only way to get through to a narcissist is to, somehow, convince her that she is driving on the wrong side of the road while the group is moving in unified direction. This may–or may not–be doable.

Creative ideas for management as well as employees when considering the office narcissist and future hires:

  • Further train HR to review the chemistry and constitution of the office and actively screen for narcissistic personalities. A simple way to screen for a narcissist is to watch what happens when you tell them no. Do they blame someone else, defend, shame another or go on the attack? These are telltale signs of a narcissist; sit back and watch the response.
  • If a possible narcissist is especially suited to a position, consider placing them for minimal daily office interaction but solid responsibility. Your colleagues with thank you and the narcissist will thrive in his own wonderland of perceived power.
  • Have an experienced and respected supervisor oversee the narcissist. If the company is committed to the narcissist, someone who is experienced, respected and clear on the best ways to interact with a narcissist can supervise. Narcissists value power, not underlings, so the supervisor should be aware, steady and respected. And, dear supervisor, watch your back.
  • Be empowered: Don’t hire a narcissist. Clear and simple: They are best left to their own devices. The narcissist is not worth the workplace burden. They are fear-based old school, while your business is interested in gathering creative, supportive types gathered in common goal.
  • Don’t reward a narcissist for being an arse. A narcissist’s reward often comes in the form of drama–so they can turn and further blame you for the office disagreement or blow-up. Don’t go there.
  • Create a positive, collaborative, open environment. A narcissist cannot tolerate these environs, for a narcissist thrives on boundaries, power, delineation, dominance and, yes, drama. Open office settings, collaboration, valuing others, understanding and empathy don’t work for them. Your business will draw talent, plenty of it–just not the narcissistic type.
  • Support staff members who are under dominion of a narcissist. Your company may be losing a number of good people while a narcissist remains. Consider creative ways to support staff without waging war with the narcissistic colleague.
  • Complete group and team trainings with a skilled mediator who is well versed on the effects of narcissism, office dynamics and roles and is willing to help untie the knots of group dysfunction.
  • Be an advocate for mindfulness programmes in your office. Mindfulness helps us notice our minds, bodies and the world around us, so we respond with greater clarity and ease. Mindfulness informs us of what we can and cannot change; programmes provide healthy ways to be in relationship in the office and at home.
  • Is it time for another job? Once you are aware of the source of the toxicity, after months of pondering whether it was your problem, can you remain and maintain sanity? If you depart while the office narcissist remains in a posh job, yes, it may not be fair. Accept it and move on. Remember, as the BBC article points out, oppressive environments can lead to emotional breakdown. Moreover, the person with the awareness is more empathic and of higher emotional intelligence than the narcissist­. Greater opportunities and happiness await. Get going.
  • Reluctant to personally speak with colleagues? Print this post and anonymously place it on their desks. Often managers are not aware of the toxic effects of narcissism. Sharing this post is not about personal vendetta or revenge. Instead, you are offering a positive step to build awareness and move your workplace toward health, greater satisfaction and overall productivity. Highlight these previous sentences for your colleagues.
  • Envision, support and elicit greater talent in your colleagues than even they think they have.  Envision the highest productivity and talent in others. Treat coworkers with this respect and appreciation. After exploring options, if you choose to remain in an office with a narcissist, this bit of advice also applies to the office N.

Karuna grew up immersed within a highly productive family business that benefitted from global sales and the regular visits of corporate CEOs and politicians, including a celebrated campaign and media stop for a U.S. presidential candidate.  She offers corporate services and mindfulness programmes as well as individualized programmes and workshops.  For vlog posts, subscribe to Karuna’s YouTube Channel.

2 thoughts on “Toxic Office? The Narcissist is Everyone’s Problem”

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Heather. “Full technicolour!” – indeed! Great description … then they leave sepia in their wake. 🙂

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