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How to Kill the Office Narcissist With Kindness

March 7, 2017, 4:33 PM UTC
Business man taking a selfie
Business man taking a selfie
Guido Mieth/Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What are some strategies for making allies in the office?” is written by KT Schmidt, chief human resource officer and general counsel at Digital River.

Effectively building relationships at work is critical to your organization’s success. Here are some specific things you can do to make friends and alliances in the workplace:

Listen while you work

One action that can make a big relationship difference at the office is listening to people and trying to understand their concerns. There is a time to express our own opinions, but maintaining a priority on listening to what our coworkers and peers want will be most effective for building rapport. When your mouth is moving, your ears stop working.

And while listening and understanding is a great first step, when things come out wrong or are perceived incorrectly, accept responsibility for miscommunications or misunderstandings. That will go a long way in developing trust among your peers.

Ideally, we should all be focused on similar goals. Reminding people of that, especially when there is a conflict or a difference of opinion, will help to depersonalize conflicts and allow the group to move forward. When you promote the interest of the group instead of promoting your own personal interests, your peers will be less threatened and you will build greater trust.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

One effective way to develop a positive and productive group dynamic is to incorporate fun into workplace interactions. People may assume workplace fun means having lunch out of the office together, meeting for happy hour, or organizing a team bowling event, but having fun can be much simpler—little moments of levity we weave into our daily lives.

For example, our office might take a quick break for a Nerf basketball shooting contest in the cubicles. Other organizations present creative awards that recognize the office heroes, complete with a cape and mask for one outstanding employee each month. The ideas are endless!

The main point is: Let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Levity in a work setting will boost creative solutions and help to humanize our coworkers. Fun helps people understand that their associates are more than just coworkers. They are real people with their own feelings, families, and desires, and we can see that more clearly in those moments of levity.

Kill them with kindness

Sometimes there will be one individual who places their personal interests before the group. The best strategy for dealing with that individual is to get to know them and try to uncover what is really motivating them. Armed with an understanding of their true goals, it may be possible to successfully redirect them in a way that is beneficial to everyone.

Changing a true narcissist is almost never successful. Instead, you have to kill them with kindness. The group will soon realize that the person is an egotistical tyrant. That kind of behavior is not only unproductive and disruptive to relationships, but it can grow like a cancer if left untreated.

Use flexible meeting structures

Create meeting structures that meet the needs of your coworkers. Have a short, daily stand-up meeting in which managers talk about the work being done and inform colleagues of upcoming strategies. This will help keep everyone in line with the corporate goals and reduce miscommunication.


Figure out how frequently to hold other meetings, so as to ensure people are getting the information they need when they need it. There are many opportunities for miscommunication in high-paced business environments, so it helps to develop a repeatable process in which people have the freedom to talk about their work product, solicit feedback, and be certain their contribution is on track with the team’s goals. These strategies will help avoid regretful employees asking each other, “Why did we do that?”

Be a servant leader

One of my favorite resources is the book Servant Leadership, by Richard Greenleaf. There are many different leadership traits you can possess to achieve success, but leading from a position of service is one of the most effective philosophies on leadership in highly educated workforces.

This philosophy often appeals to the purpose and goals of an organization while bolstering the sense of self-worth among the individuals that work there. Today’s business environments require responsive modes of leadership—ones that manage highly specialized and skilled workforces moving quickly around the globe.

Everyone, not just executives, can benefit from being service-minded as they relate to others in the workplace. This mindset is one of the most effective ways to make friends and build alliances.