Narcissistic bosses usually do not lead because they feel called to do so and want to move things. They lead for one reason above all else: to boost their own self-esteem.
In contrast to what they convey to the outside world, narcissists are deeply insecure internally and have a predominantly negative self-image, says psychiatrist and author Pablo Hagemeyer. “You want to avoid feeling and showing your own weakness at all costs.”
In order to hide these self-doubts from themselves and from others, they overcompensate – and resort to perfidious methods. Hagemeyer reveals in an interview what these are and how you can defend yourself.
Narcissistic bosses play employees against each other
“The narcissist tries very hard to get recognition and to look good,” says Hagemeyer. If employees get too close to their fragile self-image – for example, by expressing criticism – narcissistic managers often become aggressive and paranoid, explains the psychiatrist.
“Competent, less narcissistic bosses surround themselves with strong employees who know and can do more than they do, accept feedback and can also leave the show to others.” It is different with narcissistic, incompetent and weak executives. In order to prevent their weaknesses and incompetence from being exposed or someone sawing their chair, they use a perfidious tactic: they play their employees off against each other.
“It is often joked about such personalities that they are always on the move with an ax behind their back – because they split the team,” says Hagemeyer. They do this through one-on-one interviews with team members, in which they specifically reinforce their loyalty. In other words: You give them personal and emotional confirmation, for example by praising their work or promising them brilliant career opportunities.
In such conversations, narcissists benefit from cognitive empathy. That they cannot show empathy is a wrong assumption. On the contrary: You can even strategically switch your empathy on and off in order to manipulate your conversation partner.
Emotional empathy vs. cognitive empathy
What most of us understand by empathy is so-called emotional empathy, with which we not only recognize emotions and thoughts of other people, but also empathize with them. By contrast, manipulative narcissists use cognitive empathy. “Cognitive empathy is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to sense what is opportune for him – and to lure, motivate or convince him with it,” explains Hagemeyer. “But that’s a pure strategy. Empathy is only cognitive, i.e. thought – and not felt. Many fall for that. “
Victims of narcissists not only fall for it, but, according to Hagemeyer, often never even get the idea to doubt it. The mistake is therefore partly with the victim – because victims of narcissistic, powerful and manipulative people usually want to believe what they hear.
“Narcissistic executives then weave into this positive, personal and emotional confirmation that the competition is not sleeping.” For example, the executive could indicate that the colleague in the next room intends to take over the position. With lies interspersed with this, narcissistic executives increase the pressure on the employee and instill the same paranoid fear that they suffer from.
“This competition, which is artificially generated in the team, naturally divides the team in a perfidious way,” says Hagemeyer. “Everyone feels extremely connected to the boss and wants to eliminate the competition. After all, loyalty to the boss is endangered when the other person has advantages. ”The behavior of such a manager could lead to people in the team being preferred and others particularly bullied or marginalized. What you get out of it as a manager: Your own incompetence remains hidden, employees argue among themselves and the danger of being pushed from the throne by them disappears.
Why it’s so difficult to fight back
According to Hagemeyer, if the team sticks together, no narcissistic leader stands a chance. However, this is a scenario that is not very realistic, as the psychiatrist admits: “Of course we are only human, we are afraid of consequences such as dismissal or of not belonging any longer. In such cases, most likely not everyone will participate. ”A clear statement would be, for example, if the workforce quit and leave the boss alone – but such cases remain an exception.
“If not everyone goes along, it is important to make alliances – for example with colleagues who are friends,” says Hagemeyer. By exchanging ideas with one another, one can find out what is really true about the stories that the manager is spreading. If this alliance develops a critical size, you can go to the boss as a whole and express your criticism. So no individual in the team has to bear the consequences.
Not only in a team, but also as an individual, there are certain things that Hagemeyer says you can do to stand up to narcissists or simply to make dealing with them more bearable. You can read which ones are here: