Mount St. Mary’s President Resigns: Do YOU Work for A Narcissist?


The news was released today that President Simon Newman of Mount St. Mary’s University resigned in the wake of the scandal caused both by his policy to aggressively encourage underperforming students to leave the school as a ploy to increase the school’s rankings, and then summarily firing tenured faculty who opposed the policy for being “disloyal.”  Matters were made worse when it was released that President Newman defended his unpopular policy by asserting, “You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.”

While it is impossible to accurately analyze President Newman’s motivations from afar, his public behavior serves as a useful illustration of the behavior of a narcissist at work.  Narcissists tend to lack empathy, make unilateral and autocratic decisions and become outraged at the idea that anyone would oppose them.  At work, they tend to promise great things and then try to achieve those goals by force of will rather than through collaboration.  If the goals are met, they are praised by the power-that-be as heroes.  If not, their flame-out can be something to behold.

The faculty and students at Mount St. Mary’s are not the only ones who seem to  feel they have been affected by workplace narcissism.  Workplace narcissism is not unusual at all.  Many middle and upper level managers as well as executives exhibit strong narcissistic traits.  Do YOU work for a narcissist and, if you do, how should you handle it.

Industrial psychologist, Bernardo Tirado, suggests three steps for dealing with narcissists in the workplace.  The following represent highlights from his tips.

Dealing with Workplace Narcissists:  3 Steps

Step 1:  Determine if he or she is a true Narcissist

Find out if the person is a true Narcissist.  Use the called Narcissistic Personality Quiz.  Although it’s designed to determine if you’re a narcissist, it can be easily applied it to the person you’re trying to assess. 

Step 2:  Know How a Narcissist Thinks

Narcissists, by definition,  only care about themselves.  When working with a narcissist, you need to keep in mind that they will never be your best friend.  They will befriend you to see what they can get out of you and in their mind, will do favors expecting that you will do the same.  Unfortunately, in the workplace you can’t just write this person off and walk away.  So the best thing to do is to go along with him or her.

Narcissists also don’t do well with criticism.  If you ever have an issue with a narcissist never blame him or her directly as this will only infuriate them.  The best thing to do is to be indirect and talk around the issue.  So make it more about how you feel and how it’s impacting you versus how they are at fault.

Narcissists also expect you to be immediately responsive the moment they demand attention.  I once had a boss that would send me an instant message asking if I was there at my desk, then a minute later he would send me an email, and then another minute later he would call my phone.  All because he wanted a very trivial question answered. 

After he did this to me a few times, I caught onto his psychological game and so what did I start to do?  I ignored him.  It’s a risky play to ignore a narcissist but in this case, I knew that he was always persistent to the point that if I was not there to answer his question, he would find someone else that would.  I leave it with you to decide what best works for you.  What you need to know is that when a narcissist wants something, they want it now.

Step 3:  Working with a Narcissist

Always lead with how you feel first.  Narcissists are caught up in their own world and as a result, lack empathy.  Sharing your emotions is a huge blind spot because you’re forcing them to put your feelings first. 

If that feels too vulnerable, the next strategy is to focus on solutions and not the problem.  Narcissists like to focus on the problem and dissect it over and over again.  Rather than falling into the pitfall of seeing the glass half empty, flip it on its head and influence the narcissist to see the glass half full.  State the problem and quickly move towards to the solution. 

It’s typically best to present several solutions.  Narcissists like to be in control and if you can provide options, the better off you are.  Options are a way to unconsciously make them feel like you respect their opinion and are asking for them to control the direction of the solution.

Lastly, if all else fails then your last option is to make them feel special and unique.  Narcissists get high off of being in power and live for attention and admiration.  If you want them to do something, tell them how great they are and watch them perform. 

Tirado’s tips highlight the fact that you shouldn’t think that you cure the workplace narcissist or even get them to be more empathic with you.  True narcissists just don’t have it in them and nothing you can do will change that.  But you can still thrive if your boss is a narcissist by knowing how they work and how to work around them.  If you are looking for even more tips for dealing more gracefully with both the narcissists and other prickly people in your life, check out God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People!