Detecting and avoiding narcissists in the workplace by Tim Ozman

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4 years ago



The Invisible War

How Strong Are Your Boundaries?

Your Value In Workplace

Opt-Out of Mind Games

Make Your Nos Stick

Unfriendly Competition

Playing Favorites

Covert Control Freaks

Dual Personas

Opposition Research



Foreknowledge is power. Understanding how to identify a narcissist in your midst is a valuable skill and, as many will attest, is worth the painful learning process. 

There are many books on the topic of identifying manipulators and emotional vampires in your personal life. But what about those in the workplace? We are far more likely to encounter them in the workplace once we've learned to filter them out of our personal lives.

This book is intended for the narcissist-savvy individuals to take that practical understanding one step further. It's only logical to assume that their skewed way of interacting with the world would extend beyond family and friends.

Interpersonal manipulation is used to exert influence and power over another. That point alone explains the angle the narcissist will take at work. 

As to the how: there is a method to their madness. Interpersonal manipulation is rooted in psychologically gaming others into giving their consent. It's a dark form of salesmanship. 

 If you're able to detach emotionally and objectively observe, you'll see the calculation behind the little dramas — all calculated to covertly influence others.

It is essential to learn psychic self-defense as the damage is mostly invisible. In the workplace, the reputational damage is often irreparable, and that harm affects other areas of your life. 

Those who lack basic awareness of the game are the most attractive targets to its most ruthless players.

I recommend keeping a notepad and pen handy to take down notes regarding situations and individuals in your own life that come to mind as you read the following chapters. 

Maintaining a written record is crucial to untangling the complicated web of lies, deceit, and manipulation that workplace narcissists can weave.  

Only with adequate foreknowledge can you stop them before they turn you into a sacrificial pawn in their game. 

How Strong Are Your Boundaries?

First and foremost, it is crucial to understand The Narcissist vs. Codependent Dynamic. This is where you stand in relation to others with regards to your sense of self-worth. 

One one side of the spectrum is the narcissist, and the other is the codependent. Understanding this dynamic is key to maintaining firm boundaries. The narcissistic person is on the dark side, and the codependent is in the white. The majority of people in the world are in the vast gray area in between. The gray area is healthy.

The trouble is, others are always pulling us out of that gray area in an endless tug-of-war between competing interests. 

Your Value At The Workplace

Your value to your workplace is a resource to be used. The question of who stands to gain from your usefulness will be answered by your job position's place on that Narcissist vs. Codependent spectrum in that particular environment.

Are you working for a company that treats people in your position as disposable? Is there an internal reward system that promotes one type of piece over another? This is an important question to answer because if you're already on the lighter side of the spectrum, that is, co-dependently inclined, you'll want to recognize a narcissist-friendly work environment before stepping into it.

The value you create should benefit you and your workplace. Cooperation is healthy, and coercion is toxic. Healthy and toxic relationships may appear the same from the outside.

If one is the giver and the other the taker, then there is a parasitic relationship, meaning both sides are out of that grey area. And the deeper into the black the narcissistic workplace goes, the further into the white it pushes the workers. If your boss is Big Brother, you can rest assured that there's not a lot of room for independent minds.

The way to remain in the grey area is to dodge the black and white booby traps the manipulators layout for you. This requires firm boundaries and the ability to say "no" without guilt or a sense of obligation. Weak boundaries attract manipulators and narcissistic control freaks. 

Toxic Vs. Healthy Balance of Power

First question: Are you dealing with a diagnosable narcissist or someone behaving narcissistically? Because there are power imbalances inherent in any workplace, it's easy to take things too personally and misread the intent behind things said by those in superior positions. 

Is there a healthy balance of power? This would be one of respect and mutually beneficial interactions in the workplace, mindful of one another status. An unhealthy balance of power, on the other hand, would entail toxic and unavoidable confrontations.

What makes workplace narcissists so nasty is that you don't have a choice but to remain in their sphere of influence. 

Opt-Out of Mind Games

Are you happy at work? Is anyone else? 

The amount of toxicity within any work environment indicates how polarized it is. 

If highly staffed with narcissists, the workplace will reflect that in contrast between these and the other employees who will be varying shades of grey occupying one or the other end of the spectrum. 

A healthy workplace is neutral, and there is a general camaraderie. Unhealthy workplaces are dens of intrigue. Mind games, in such places, are almost inescapable. Being that it's a workplace, you may not have a choice to avoid them entirely.

The one thing you can control is your level of psychological engagement. 

The first step to opting out of mind games altogether is identifying the players and the players. It's always safest in the grey, the neutral zones. If you cannot avoid direct interactions with game players, manipulators, or toxic personalities, you must exercise reasonable border control.

Reasonable border control means that your personal life and workplace functions are maintained separate and distinct. Leave your political affiliations, private personal relationships, religious convictions, and your opinion on the shape of the world at home. 

There is power in vagueness, in not choosing sides. You have room to maneuver. Choosing a side is a slippery slope into personal disempowerment. It's best to maintain personal responsibility and not defer too much to leaders or factions. Independence can be neutralizing as neither side in any conflict will want to alienate you, lest you join their opposition.

Guard Your Nos

Your nos have to stick. The agreed-upon schedule be just that. Don't be lulled into admitting you have nothing to do the next night. 

Leaving any opening at all will make you exploitable. Manipulative individuals, narcissists, and companies that behave in this manner will always seek to circumvent your boundaries. 

A little preventative defensiveness will go a long way to avoiding awkward dilemmas, guilt trips, and unanticipated chaos. Control, not chaos, is your desired outcome. Saying no to chaos requires first that you take control of your time and how you dole it out. Preventative defensiveness means that you decide where you stand, in advance. Know your place and what your options are before you step onto the game board.

Ask yourself if you control your time or if it can be taken from you. If it can, then it means you have weaknesses or openings in your border which need reinforcements. 

This is to be applied to other areas, not just your schedule. What about promotions? Do you have proper expectations set, or are you at the whim of a supervisor or employer? If you have low expectations, narcissists and toxic workplaces will surely meet them.

What are your boundaries? Are you saying no to the entire proposition or just part of it? Are you open to negotiating, or would you prefer to avoid making a choice?

If you're easily coerced into making a firm yes or no, then you're not neutral enough. You must be slow to relinquish control, and when you do, it must be on your terms.  

Rushing into any decision without taking the time to think is a good way to make the wrong choice. 

The pressure to choose is how the manipulator makes the "yes" into a scarce commodity on a limited time offer. The "no" is just there to goad you into saying yes. 

Stay in the gray zone, maintain the right to opt-out entirely, or, better yet, to exit the transaction with a firm "maybe."

Recognize Manipulative People By Their Actions

There are few commonalities that will signify a manipulator at first glance. Moreover, manipulators are often cunning and know the power of a well-executed first impression. This makes detection all the more difficult. 

What unites manipulators are their common tactics and the manners with which they conduct themselves throughout their lives. This means that they often elude detection long enough to entrench themselves into the lives of those they have targeted for manipulation and exploitation. 

Despite their differences, the habits which characterize most manipulative people are the same. If you become aware of these essential habits, you'll become more adept at spotting and responding to red flags when they arise instead of being taken in by deceitful tricks, lies, and games. 


Friendly Faces Vs. Friendly Masks

When you're new to a workplace, expect some positive attention. But without getting paranoid, you must keep in mind that people are paid for their affability. Love bombing is a manipulation technique used to gain influence over someone through the use of excessive attention and flattery. Manipulators specifically target those who are not getting enough attention and affection. 

They focus upon those who are lonely or desperate because people who are getting their needs met are not as open to being manipulated. 

People that respond favorably to love bombing are those who need external validation. To them, love bombing is a confirmation of their self-worth. Flattery doesn't work so well on those who are internally secure. 

To those who are not open to love bombing, it comes across as fake, contrived, and suspicious. The manipulator will not waste effort flattering those who are not receptive because manipulators never do anything without an expectation of getting something back in return. 

Love bombing is often subtle when it occurs within platonic relationships. However, no manipulator ever gives more than they take. 

Manipulators are huge on eye-contact. Eye-contact is a way of expressing sincere interest in another. It is also a boundary-crossing behavior. When they see a new source of power, a new person to manipulate and control, they will give all the indications of being infatuated with that person. 

This takes the form of love bombing, gift-giving, or an excessive amount of attention. Everything is fake. They pretend to care about the life of their target in an attempt to subvert that person's judgment and to gain their trust. These types of relationships can take a person from the neutral grey zone into the black or white quite readily. 

A narcissist in the workplace can be a wedge in your relationships such that you're forced to choose sides at some point later on some matters unrelated to work. Such forced choices are hallmarks of narcissistic manipulation and reveal how every friendship is just another resource to be leveraged later. 

To avoid this, stay in the grey and avoid obligations to those who are in the black. 


Dual Personas

Narcissists have two faces: one they present to the public, and one reserved for those behind closed doors. Their public face will be an idealized version, intended to give a specific impression. 

This is similar to how we put on our best face for special occasions. The difference is, the person they present is not even close to the real person.

Likewise, a company's public relations department handles perception management, that is, controlling how outsiders view the company.  

The more narcissistic the company, the more they will use overt and covert means to preserve their false image.

The Invisible Game

The moment you step into the workplace is the moment you entered into a gameboard. Whether you're a disposable and sacrificial pawn or a key component to winning the game, is determined by the choices you make.

The best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior. This is a fact of human nature. If someone has played head-games in the past, then chances are it's already being done in the present and will continue into the future unless you are able to identify those behaviors. 

Does your prospective employer have a high turnover rate? Are there negative reviews online about the company?

By learning to recognize the red flags, you'll insulate yourself against the dangers of being indiscriminately trusting. Maybe you're entering a workplace where part of the game is navigating the minefield of egos and toxic personalities to secure a better position.

You can win this game by dodging the black and the white and keeping neutral position where you remain in control over how much or how little you engage with the narcissistic workplace or those within it.


This is by no means an exhaustive survey of the topic. There are reasons why some individuals are targeted by manipulators, while others are passed over. 

If you had a narcissistic or manipulative parent you might be primed for the manipulators of the world, there is a dynamic between the manipulator and the manipulated, which must be understood if you are to inoculate yourself against manipulation.

 The key to overcoming manipulation and manipulators is self-awareness. 

By understanding our weaknesses we can build up walls to screen out the liars, cheaters, and abusers before they get in close enough to do us harm.  

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Avatar for TimOzman
4 years ago