Q: One of the members of our team of six is openly rude and sarcastic to me but nice to the others. I get along well with the other members, who privately tell me they can't stand her. They acknowledge she is catty, arrogant and vengeful. I'm glad they see it, but having them on my side doesn't make it easier for me, because I have to deal with her daily. She clearly has a personal vengeance against me, which makes me wish I could get her fired after every interaction we have.
I don't want to work under these conditions, but I don't think I should be the one to leave. While my other teammates don't like working with her, they don't want to risk getting on her bad side by openly defending me. They tell me to ignore her nastiness and steer clear of her, but I can't, because our jobs intertwine. How do I get management to know she is she is the negative cog in the wheel?
A: Even though you must work with her, you don't have to accept her hostile and abusive comments. You will never change her, as she sounds narcissistic, but you need a way to indirectly expose her behavior to protect you in your job. Your other team members may not really be on your side. Simply telling you they don't like her won't help you. It sounds like they want to remain uninvolved because she hasn't singled out any of them for the same treatment. Their refusal to not support you at work is silently condoning her negative behavior. If she is a narcissist, you must be smart about how you interact with her.
According to Dr. Elinor Greenberg, Ph. D., CGP, author of "Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety" (available on Amazon) and faculty member of both the New York Institute for Gestalt therapy and the Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training, people with narcissistic personality adaptations are extremely hierarchical in their thinking. They can accept people as either above or below them in status, but not as their equals. They tend to engage in highly competitive and vicious dominance battles with anyone who presumes to consider themselves their equal. This means that if your co-worker is actually a narcissist, the reason she is treating you so badly is either because she sees you as below her in status and, thus, fair game for her spite and destructive impulses; or she sees you as a potential equal who might, in time, surpass her. The latter would cause her to feel very threatened and lead her to do her best to destroy your reputation and your career.
The situation is made worse by the fact that people with narcissistic personality adaptations do not have what psychologists call "whole object relations." This means they are unable to construct a stable, realistic and integrated picture of anyone. They can only see themselves and others as special or worthless — all good or all bad. This means your co-worker is unable to see your good points objectively and can only view you as all bad.
Among the many tips for interacting with a narcissist, Greenberg says "Never be needy or show any form of self-doubt or weakness in front of them, always be visible but clearly above and out of reach, disappear as soon as they do something you do not like, and have something the narcissist values, like beauty, wealth, social status, or fame." It seems your close working relationship with this woman has shaken her confidence, so much so that she feels she must devalue you to regain her safety and self-image.
You cannot resolve this problem without your co-workers' help. It will be difficult to expose her if your team members will not be your witnesses. Human resources generally will not question a situation when an entire team confirms a problem employee. Without their coming forward with eyewitness details of her treatment of you, HR will doubt your word.
Meet with your "befriended" team members at a private location away from the office. Your goal is to gather full support so you can report her hostility toward you. If they refuse to confirm your experiences to management (the boss or HR), find out why. They may fear her extending her ill will and retaliation, as people should when they threaten a narcissist. In this case, finding a new job elsewhere may be a safer and easier task than exposing her. Narcissism is common in the workplace; the most serious types are malignant narcissists, whose personalities crossover into psychopathy.
If you convince your teammates to confirm your ongoing experiences with this teammate, their support will show management you are not the one with the personality problem. You may, though, experience other, more significant problems if she is fired.
Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/at-work-lindsey-novak.