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Unmasking Narcissists at Work: A Survival Guide

Ever encountered someone who's the human equivalent of a never-ending selfie session? Congratulations, you've just met a workplace narcissist!


Imagine if Kanye West and Cersei Lannister had a lovechild – that's the workplace narcissist in a nutshell.

They're like a walking, talking billboard for self-promotion, with a charisma that could rival a cult leader.


Their favourite pastime?

Turning every conversation into a monologue about their accomplishments, their brilliance, and their unparalleled expertise.

Think of them as the CEOs of their own little kingdoms, where the rules apply only to others. They're the masters of manipulation, with a knack for twisting facts faster than you can say "alternative truth."


If they were a superhero, their power would be the ability to deflect blame faster than a speeding bullet.

Their ego is as fragile as a smartphone screen without a protective case, and any slight criticism sends them spiralling into a pit of self-pity and righteous indignation.

They're the kings and queens of gaslighting, making you question your own sanity faster than a David Blaine magic trick.

diva with feathers

In short, they're the workplace divas you never asked for, but somehow always end up with. From Steve Jobs to Miranda Priestly, history is rife with examples of their kind.

Next time you encounter someone who's more interested in their own reflection than the team's success, just remember you're dealing with a workplace narcissist.


I tend to think there are more narcissistic personalities in the workplace than ever before.

This century, there's a greater emphasis on individualism, self-promotion, and personal achievement.

The rise of social media platforms over the last 20 years has amplified opportunities for self-promotion and validation.

Constant exposure to curated images of success and glamour can fuel narcissistic tendencies, as individuals strive to portray an idealised version of themselves online.


This cultural shift towards self-focus and self-admiration can foster narcissistic traits in individuals.

You would assume high-pressure environments, such as IT start-ups, entertainment, and media, that reward assertiveness, confidence, and self-promotion are a breeding ground for characteristics commonly associated with narcissism.

I have spent most of my career in the not-for-profit human services sector.

I can tell you there are plenty of ego-driven, empathy-lacking individuals shouting from the stage about caring about vulnerable people when all they care about are themselves.


Research suggests that narcissistic individuals are more likely to pursue leadership positions and are often perceived as charismatic and confident.

Consequently, they may be overrepresented in leadership roles, exerting a significant influence on workplace culture and dynamics.

In some workplaces, a lack of accountability and consequences for toxic behaviour enables narcissistic individuals to thrive.

Without checks and balances in place, their manipulative tactics and self-serving agendas can go unchecked, exacerbating their impact on organisational culture.

I have personally seen CEOs, senior managers, and Boards behaving in a way that would at least surprise you but might shock you too.

The corrupt practices that narcissists get away with are astonishing.

woman with designer bag

Navigating the workplace can sometimes feel like tiptoeing through a minefield, especially when dealing with personalities that seem more concerned with their own reflection than the team's success.

Here are some examples of people I have worked with.


Picture this: a colleague or manager who showers you with compliments to your face but orchestrates a whisper campaign against you the moment you leave the office. Classic narcissists move.

 I once worked with someone who I thought of as a friend at work, I then went on annual leave for several weeks.

Upon my return to the workplace, the narcissist had coordinated a full attack on my professional status in the organisation.

She didn’t understand why this was upsetting to me and didn’t grasp why I left the organisation soon after!

The workplace narcissist thrives on manipulation, using their charm as a weapon to pit colleagues against each other while maintaining a façade of innocence.


The workplace narcissist is often the self-appointed judge of emotional intelligence who often lacks empathy themselves yet have no qualms about labelling others as overly sensitive.

I once told a CEO I was leaving because I did not want to be associated with an organisation that had treated my work colleague so badly.

The CEO behaved appallingly towards someone who did not deserve such cruel treatment.

In response, the CEO told me I was too emotional.

If you know me, you know I outwardly present myself as serious,  to the point of being mistaken as autistic.

It took me a long time to understand it’s not me or you; it's their inability to comprehend emotions beyond their own reflection.

In the narcissist's world, job titles aren't just labels; they're badges of superiority.

man looking in broken mirror

Why settle for just plain old "manager" when you can be the "senior manager extraordinaire"? Titles serve as their armour, shielding fragile egos from the harsh reality of mediocrity.

I once worked for an organisation with a narcissist CEO who would promote people from just a simple manager to a senior manager, for no other reason than she liked you. Promotions were only offered to the select few that feed and stroked her ego.

(side note – she never promoted me!) 

Truth is subjective in the realm of narcissists.

They weave intricate tales of lies to serve their agenda, whether it's to boost their own image or undermine others'.

Don't be surprised if you find yourself questioning your own sanity amidst their web of deceit.

An email from a workplace narcissist can easily be littered with half-truths or outright lies. Workplace Narcissists are good at just making shit up out of thin air.

You can’t challenge them because they refuse to see real facts.

Whatever they believe to be true is the only truth.

I never understood why a workplace narcissist leader I worked with would use a microphone to drone on about themselves in a small room that didn't require a microphone.

The leader would discuss themselves as if they had saved the free world personally.

The same leader genuinely thought local politicians were visiting only to see her.

Anyone else could see the politician was there for their own benefit and photo opportunity.

Workplace narcissist leaders are above the law. (Or so they think) Fair Work Act means nothing to them, Workplace Health, and Safety legislation - they wouldn’t even be aware it exists.

king laughing

I have lost count of the number of times I have informed a workplace narcissist that you cannot legally do that, only to be ignored and brushed aside.

I once told a leader that they were incorrectly claiming NDIS funding because the services had never been provided. This was ignored and to my knowledge never rectified. Again, I didn’t stay around long enough to be associated with this organisation and their unprofessional and illegal practices.   

Here's the one and only golden rule you need to know when dealing with narcissists - starve them of attention.

Like vampires deprived of blood, they wither away in the absence of an audience.

Ignore their theatrics, focus on your work, and watch as their power diminishes.


Recognising the allure of narcissists is the first step towards breaking free from their spell.

Their charm may be irresistible, but beneath the surface lies a void of empathy and authenticity.

Hold fast to your professional standards and integrity; they are your shield against their manipulative tactics.

It's taken me a long time, but I now have increased awareness and understanding of narcissistic personality traits. I can recognise and identify these individuals in the workplace.

Generally, as people become more educated about narcissism, I hope everyone can be more adept at recognising its manifestations in colleagues and superiors.

It is my hope that individual self-awareness efforts to foster a healthier and more collaborative work environment.

Spotting a narcissist at work is only half the battle.

Surviving their machinations requires resilience, integrity, and a healthy dose of self-awareness.

Remember, you're not alone in this struggle.

By staying true to yourself and refusing to play their game, you reclaim your power and pave the way for a healthier workplace culture.





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