Dealing with The Self-Absorbed Personality

“It’s all about ME!”

Working with someone who is self-absorbed can be pretty challenging. On the surface, they might come across as charismatic, outgoing, and even charming. From a distance, they can also seem driven and successful.
However, if you have to work with one closely, you may find yourself looking for the nearest window out of which to throw yourself or them.

Let’s be clear, having a positive self regard is not a bad thing. The Buddha said it best, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire Universe, deserve your love and affection.”  I’m talking about those who have such an elevated sense of self-worth they look down on the rest of us. There’s a sense of entitlement, and a belief that honoring commitments is only necessary if it benefits them. Their mission is to look good, and the mission of the team always comes a distant second. They see themselves to being faultless, so when something bad happens, then it must be someone else is to blame. They will also be quick to point fingers or throw you under the bus. In a meeting, I watch as someone literally starts pointing his finger at people saying, “It’s not my fault but yours, and yours, and yours…”

Here are some clues to identify one at work:

  • Their main goal is to look good to the boss; consequently the boss may think they’re great.
  • When they need your help, they’re your best friend. When you need something from them, you will feel like they forgot your name.
  • They’ll take credit for something you did, without even thinking they did anything wrong.
  • In meetings, when they’re not grandstanding, they’re checked out.
  • They think grunt work is beneath them. You will never catch them cleaning-up after a meeting.

How to deal with the self-absorbed coworker:

  • Recognize and understand their motivation. This will always be your number one strategy when dealing with any difficult person. They didn’t choose to be like this, something went wrong when they were growing up. But don’t bother trying to enlighten or change them, there’s little hope of that. Just start with the understanding that you’re not the problem.
  • Know thy self.  What they do can make you cuckoo, so stay checked-in with your own emotions. In addition, self absorbed people have an amazing ability to inject negative feelings into others.
  • Do a reality check. You can get caught up in their “all knowing” attitude and start thinking they must be right when they’re not. You will need to trust your gut and step-up when you question where you are heading.
  • Use what they need to your advantage. If you have to work with one, then you might as well figure out how to get things done with them. I make sure I recognize their good work (without being too disingenuous). They love that; it can make working with them easier and it can also lead to some reciprocity.
  • Learn to set limits and boundaries. A self-centered individual can be a space invader and suck your time away. It may be hard for them to hear limits, but you need to be firm.
  • Cover your butt.  Make sure you document and communicate any issues or successes, or you maybe scrubbing tire tracks off your back.

To learn more, check out the great book “Coping with Difficult People” By Arlene Matthews Uhl.

What lessons have you learned while working with a self-absorbed co-worker?


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  • Belinda

    The above article absolutely describes my co-worker she NEVER is happy for anybody’s good fortune and is so negative about everyone else but is a master manipulator to the male bosses, they think the sun and moon shine from her. She loves to throw you under the bus and doesn’t even try and hide it. This person is haunting my dreams and the primary reason I was looking for another job although it’s a tough market out there and my age is against me. I loved reading this very helpful!

    • Thanks Belinda! I suggest that you make a plan to confront her on some of her behavior. I just read a great book about being candid call “Say Anything to Anyone” by Shari Harely. Check it out. You have nothing to lose but your bad dreams!