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Setting boundaries and keeping records of business dealings can help when dealing with narcissistic bosses and co-workers, says Nina Brown, professor of counseling at Old Dominion University and author of the soon-to-be-published "Working With the Self-Absorbed."

"Working…," Brown's third book on the topic of narcissists - those who focus inappropriately on and are preoccupied with their own needs and desires - tells how to recognize the condition in colleagues and bosses and how that behavior affects individuals and office units.

In a work setting, narcissists can:

* Be grandiose and ruthless;
* Exaggerate their own achievements and take unearned credit when in fact they do very little;
* Disparage others; and
* Slavishly support every opinion or suggestion of a superior.

They often associate only with superiors or those who can benefit them in some way and denigrate higher-ups who they believe are less qualified than they, Brown said.

Office narcissists can be demanding, blaming and critical micro-managers who lie or make distorted statements. When confronted, they often turn the blame against their accusers, she added.

To combat this behavior, Brown recommends the following steps:

* Set boundaries of behavior you won't tolerate and things you will and will not do. But beware, too-rigid boundaries can push others away.
* Keep good records when they ask you to do something for them or if you're asked to sit in on a meeting;
* Provide frequent updates on projects you're working on for the person;
* Discreetly verify information they give you;
* Work on dealing with the feelings they arouse in you - you can't change the other person. Narcissists often don't see they have a problem.

In the short term, avoidance may be the best option, Brown says. Interacting socially with the person may be counterproductive. "You don't do anything with them you don't have to do," she advises.

Brown also suggests avoiding isolationist thinking. Other colleagues may share your concerns. But if you choose to discuss the situation with fellow employees, do it outside the work unit.

In addition to making uncomfortable interactions with the person more formal creates an emotional buffer zone.

Brown got the idea for the book from her research on narcissism. Many of the same things that she found about the narcissistic personality pattern in parent-child relationships held true for employer-employee interaction in the workplace.

"So much of your life is tied up in work. If you have an uncomfortable workplace - one with narcissistic co-workers and bosses - it can be very stressful, and that affects other areas of your life," she said.

The book will be published in August by New Harbinger Publications.

This article was posted on: July 11, 2002

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