Having a narcissistic boss is a nightmare scenario for any hardworking employee. It’s not that uncommon, however, because narcissists seem to exude confidence, something that can often get them promoted. Additionally, because their image is so important to them, they often work hard to get promoted to leadership positions. They are not good bosses, however, and if you’re stuck with a narcissistic boss, you’ll want to know what you can do about it?
Exposing a narcissistic boss is all about revealing their manipulation tactics. They take credit for work they didn’t do or ideas they didn’t have. They also blame everyone else for mistakes. By educating yourself, biding your time as you assemble evidence, and getting support, you can expose them.
You work hard at your job and expect to be rewarded for that effort, but with a narcissistic boss, that’s unlikely to happen. Exposing them may be your only option aside from looking for another job or a transfer to another department. Let’s explore your options and how to go about exposing them in 13 steps without looking like the office tattletale.
1. Educate Yourself
The first thing that’s important to do is educate yourself about just exactly what you’re dealing with if you have a narcissistic boss. Narcissism forms in childhood when trauma results in a damaged sense of identity.
The narcissist doesn’t have a healthy ego that allows them to prop up their own self-esteem, and for that reason, they need other people to do it. They have created a grandiose false self-image, but they constantly fear the exposure of their flawed true self.
This is the motivation behind their actions. They seek the limelight and positions of power to validate their grandiose ideas about how superior they are. They also need people to almost constantly praise them, something known as narcissistic supply.
In the workplace, they exude confidence, something which often gets them recognized by superiors. They may have a good business sense or talents that help them get ahead, but they are not above taking credit for your work or ideas. They also won’t hesitate to blame someone else for any mistakes.
They can’t take responsibility for mistakes they have made because that undermines the house of cards that is their identity. Since they crave the spotlight, they also don’t share credit for achievements, and they won’t recognize your hard work.
As you can probably tell, this is a nightmare for their underlings. If you have a narcissistic boss, your workplace can become extremely hostile, but you do have rights. You do not have to suffer a hostile workplace.
You can take your claims of their abuse to the human resources department, but you have to be very careful about how and when you do that. You have to be prepared because you’ll likely only get one chance to expose your narcissistic boss.
2. Document Everything
It is absolutely critical that you document everything that happens with your narcissistic boss. You should keep a running log of interactions they have with you or other employees. It’s important to note the date, the situation, anyone who was present, and of course, what exactly happened.
When you’re bringing any kind of complaint against someone in the workplace, it’s important to have contemporaneous notes that document what happened. You’ll want to describe in detail the context, what was said or done, and how it made you feel.
This may seem like tedious work, but it will be important if you bring a complaint against your narcissistic boss. It’s also helpful if you tell other people what happened. You have to be careful about this in the workplace because your narcissistic boss will have allies, but you can tell family and friends too.
This type of documentation can be done electronically or in a written format. Either way is acceptable, but it’s critical to detail as much as you remember about what happened. You also want to include details about whether or not your boss forced you to do something you didn’t want to do, if they threatened you in any way, and if they devalued you privately or publicly.
All of these are important parts of filing a Human Resources complaint against your boss. Remember, they have authority in your company, and because of that, you will want to make sure you have as much evidence as possible if you have to go up against them.
3. Get Written Instructions
Getting instructions for tasks from your narcissistic boss in writing is paramount if you need to report them to your human resources department or their superior. If you are given oral instructions, you can get written confirmation by sending your boss an email asking for clarification.
You can say something like, “You instructed me to work on the new project, but I wanted to get your guidance on specifically how you want me to handle that. I appreciate all the help you can give me.” You’re playing to your narcissistic boss’s ego, and when they respond, you’ll have written confirmation of exactly what they expect you to do. As life coach Bronwyn notes, “Asking for advice is an incredible way of flagging a problem without triggering skepticism in the other person.”
Make sure to keep those emails for future reference. If there is any question about what you were instructed to do by your boss, you’ll have the evidence. It will be important for proving your credibility.
If for any reason, you are not able to get an email with instructions, you can ask a colleague to go with you to get clarification on the instructions. They can act as a witness to what your boss might have told you.
It’s necessary to do this because a narcissistic boss will not hesitate to throw you under the bus if something goes wrong. They won’t take responsibility for their role in any mistakes, and to protect yourself, you need to have proof of what you were asked to do.
This is also useful if you have a good suggestion and your narcissistic boss turns you down. If something doesn’t work out well, you can show that you had suggested a different approach but that suggestion was ignored.
4. Have Witnesses to Interactions
Whenever you have to talk to your narcissistic boss, it will be helpful to have witnesses to those interactions. Narcissists frequently erupt in rage, say one thing and then change their mind, and of course, they will blame you for any problems.
This is when they might show their true colors, and it’s good to have someone who can attest to how you were treated. While a boss has a right to call out your mistakes, they don’t have a right to do so in an abusive manner.
Narcissistic bosses will often rage at their employees and turn the workplace into a hostile environment. Anytime you have witnesses to that kind of behavior, it helps build your case when you go to expose your narcissistic boss.
Witnesses can back up the mistreatment that your boss heaps on the employees. If your boss is treating you that way, they are likely treating other employees that way too. It’s important to have as many people who can attest to their bad behavior as it bolsters your case.
It’s important to remember that businesses are mainly concerned with their bottom line, and if your narcissistic boss is helping boost their bottom line, they will be reticent to get rid of them without sufficient evidence. Witnesses are important in that regard.
5. Watch Out for Flying Monkeys and Enablers
Just like in a personal relationship, your narcissistic boss has people who enable their behavior. Some people are codependent by nature. They’ve grown up in a home where their needs were considered secondary, and they learned to be people pleasers to survive.
When they are confronted with abuse, they strive even harder to please the abuser. It makes little difference if the abuse occurs in the home or the workplace. These are the enablers, and it’s important to realize that they are unlikely to be willing to speak out against your abusive boss.
They won’t be good witnesses to abusive behavior, nor will they be someone you can trust to have your back. They will watch out for their boss. These are the people you might call a ‘brown-noser’ or ‘suck-up.’ They’re different from flying monkeys.
While enablers are traumatized individuals who have developed a submissive coping strategy to survive, flying monkeys have a different intention. They are like the mean girl’s entourage. They have been convinced by the narcissistic boss to malign you in any way they can.
They are like the flying monkeys who assisted the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz. They will be willing to do whatever your narcissistic boss instructs them to do to get back at you or make you look bad in the eyes of other superiors.
It’s important to identify these types of people so that you don’t make the mistake of relying on them to tell the truth or validate your version of events. It is unlikely they will do so.
6. Record Meetings
If possible, you’ll want to record any meetings you have with your boss. You can state that it helps you remember details of what was said so that you can better do your job. If your narcissistic boss allows this, it will provide you with evidence of any instructions you received and also the tone of the interactions between your boss and their employees.
If your boss won’t allow a recording, you should make sure to take detailed notes, and if possible, get your boss to sign on them as accurately as possible. Many companies have someone take meeting notes and the recorder then sends them out for correction and validation.
You could offer to do this for your meetings as a means of ensuring more accuracy and improving employee understanding and performance. These notes then become valuable pieces of evidence should anyone question why you or other employees did something the way they did.
They are evidence of the instructions you were given, and they are also evidence of any suggestions or good ideas you might have had at one of those meetings. That can come in handy when you go to make your case with your superiors or your human resources department.
7. Keep a Dated Record of Your Ideas
Your narcissistic boss will steal credit for your ideas. While this is unprofessional, it can have a negative impact on your career. While they are telling their superiors that they came up with your good idea, your career can easily stall.
That’s why you’ll want to keep a dated record of your ideas and suggestions. A good way to do this is to make those suggestions via email. Send an email to your narcissistic boss and any other employees that are working with you clearly outlining your idea.
If your boss uses your idea and later tries to take credit for it, you have evidence that it was you who came up with it. If they reject your idea and later try to blame you for something that went wrong, you’ll have evidence that you had suggested a different strategy.
Of course, your emails will have the date of these interactions. If your company doesn’t use email in that way or your boss doesn’t let you do that, you should document your idea and the date. You can even do what’s called a ‘poor man’s copyright.’
Write your idea down on a sheet of paper and mail – using snail mail – to yourself. You’ll have sealed, dated evidence of when you thought of the idea. You could also simply send yourself an email outlining your idea and your plans to talk to your boss about it.
After you talk to your boss, you can also send yourself an email that details their response to your idea. That way, you also have contemporaneous documentation of the interaction. It might seem like a lot of trouble to go to, but when you need to produce evidence of these interactions and your ideas, you’ll be glad you followed through with the proper documentation.
8. Assemble Your Evidence
After you’ve taken the time to document interactions, talk to anyone you trust to be a reliable witness, and recorded your ideas and your narcissistic boss’s abusive behavior, it’s time to assemble all of the evidence you’ve gathered. This will help you present a coherent, logical, and well-documented series of events and misbehavior that has caused a hostile workplace for you and other employees.
It’s helpful to assemble your evidence in logical categories. You might do this by putting everything together in a timeline of when these interactions and events occurred. You could also organize everything by the type of abusive behavior.
For example, you might group the evidence for rageful episodes in one category, while stealing ideas or wrongfully blaming others are in different categories. Remember that your company is concerned with its bottom line, so it’s also helpful to show how your narcissistic boss’s behaviors are hurting productivity or undermining the success of your projects.
This is particularly true if your narcissistic boss has managed to meet the goals assigned to them. You have to show the company that their behavior is something that either is already hurting their bottom line or will in the future.
You also want the evidence you’ve assembled to be easy to understand, coherent, and logical. The more organized you are, the more credible you seem. Like it or not, appearances matter in the business world, and if you come off like a scatterbrain, it will seem like you’re just a complainer.
Organize your evidence in a logical manner, present it as succinctly as possible, and don’t let yourself get emotional as you make your complaint. That will make you more believable.
9. Don’t Show Your Hand
This is really important. If your narcissistic boss finds out what you’re up to before you have a chance to make your case, they will go in first and make it seem like you’re a problematic employee.
They will go to their superiors and start making complaints about you. When you go to make your complaint, they’ll just see you as a disgruntled employee. That’s why you can’t let anyone who might tell your boss what you’re doing.
This means staying away from those flying monkeys for sure and the enablers too. In fact, you want to play your cards close to the vest around anyone at the workplace since you don’t know what other employees might say to your boss or their loyal underlings.
You are going to want witnesses who will attest to your boss’s bad behavior, but before you make your case, you don’t want them to inadvertently let someone in on what you’re doing who will report to the boss.
That’s why it’s wise to wait to ask those witnesses to actually make statements until you’re ready to go to your boss’s superiors or the human resources department. You might even speak with the superiors first and let them know that you have witnesses you believe will support your side of the story. Tell them that you haven’t wanted to ask them to become involved just yet, but you believe they will support what you’re saying.
If you’ve documented everything in detail, it will be clear to those superiors exactly who was present when certain problematic behaviors occurred. Once you’ve initiated a process, you can then let your witnesses know that you’ve filed a complaint, and they may be asked about what they experienced. Just ask them to tell the truth.
10. Get Corroboration from Supportive Colleagues
The more corroboration you can get from supportive coworkers, the stronger your case will be. You just have to watch out for the flying monkeys and enablers discussed earlier. If you know there are coworkers you can trust, you may even ask them to join you in the complaint.
The more people who are willing to call out your narcissistic boss’s bad behavior, the better your chances are for a successful outcome. It’s vital to remember that narcissists can be very charming when they need to be.
It’s likely that when your narcissistic boss is confronted with your complaint, they will try to charm their way out of any repercussions. That’s why having more people who are willing to make statements about how corrosive the narcissist’s behavior is will be very helpful for your cause.
While one employee might have misunderstood or might have a personality difference with the boss, several making similar accusations adds weight to your claim. The company then has to weigh the needs of several employees against one boss. It’s much more likely they will decide that one person, no matter how successful they are at their job, is not worth the potential loss of several employees.
11. Get Legal Advice
This is an important consideration. Before you jeopardize your career or a job that you need, you might want to consult a lawyer who specializes in this kind of law. You do have legal rights, and they can advise you about the best way to go about filing a complaint.
They might also be able to accompany you when you make your case. That can show your company just how much of a problem your narcissistic boss has become. One employee making claims might not cause them to act to protect your rights, but one employee with evidence and legal representation is likely to make them take notice.
Your lawyer can also advise you about the quality of any evidence and documentation you’ve gathered. They can let you know if it is likely to be enough to get the company to act. They might also be able to help you get more.
Depending on the nature of your narcissistic boss’s bad behavior, a lawyer could ask for testimony under oath, as happens with a deposition. That can prompt other witnesses to be more truthful, and once again, it underscores the seriousness of your claims.
It’s easy for a company to brush aside or even cover up the bad actions of one individual, particularly if that individual happens to be good at their job or seemingly gets results. When you have legal representation, however, most companies will take notice and play by the book. They can’t afford to have a cover-up exposed or have a scandal affect their profit margin.
12. Present Your Case
Once you have assembled your evidence, organized it in a logical manner, taken note of any potential witnesses, and consulted a lawyer, it’s time to present your case to either your human resources department or the appropriate superiors.
When you present your case, you don’t want to do so in an aggressive or vindictive manner. You want to stay calm and simply state the types of behaviors that have created a hostile workplace for you in a straightforward manner.
Don’t become emotional, as it makes you seem less credible. Simply detail your experiences and how your narcissistic boss’s behavior has affected you. Don’t cry, don’t get angry, and don’t exaggerate the facts.
You don’t want to seem like you’re out to get your boss; you want to seem like a reasonable person who is being treated unfairly. State the facts and offer your evidence. Be sure to make copies of that evidence for your records too, and let your superiors know you have done that.
Ask them for a timeline of what happens next, and it’s also okay to ask to be reassigned until your case is resolved. It is not legal for them to punish you for making a complaint like this, and having to continue working with a narcissistic boss can be construed as a punishment.
13. Stay Professional
This is a really important point. No matter how your case is decided, it’s vital that you stay professional at all times. If you win and your narcissistic boss is fired or demoted, something that only happens in approximately 5% of the cases, you shouldn’t gloat or even appear overly happy.
If your case is decided against you, you’ll need to stay professional to help with what comes next. You might need to be reassigned to another department permanently, or you might need to consider finding another job.
Whatever the case, you don’t want to act unprofessionally as that will just cause more problems for you. Keep your cool, stay professional, and thoughtfully consider what comes next. If you find your company is retaliating against you or the workplace has become even more hostile, this might be the time to consult your lawyer about any other options you have.
Sometimes companies deny or cover up this kind of bad behavior, but a lawyer can get a more fair resolution in court. That may be an option open to you if you’re dissatisfied with the outcome or you feel your company is trying to ruin your career.
A narcissistic boss is just about the worst kind of boss you can have. They will take your ideas, blame you for mistakes, and they may frequently erupt in a rage. It can be difficult to get anything done about them, given that they can be charming when they want to be, and they can be good at their job. They also will use your emotions against you to make you look like the unhinged, disgruntled employee.
You may not be able to get your narcissistic boss fired, but you can keep them from using your emotional triggers to make you appear emotionally unhinged. My 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers can help you recognize your own emotional wounds that cause you to react emotionally when triggered. This free guide can help you defuse those triggers to prevent a narcissist or anyone else from using them against you. Just click on this link, and I will promptly send you a copy directly to your inbox. It will help you take control of your own emotions and stop narcissistic abuse in its tracks!
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