Narcissists can be really hard, if not impossible, for others to communicate with on a personal level – but don’t worry! There are ways to interact with them effectively.
According to experts, here are ways to communicate with a narcissist:
Jerisel Jimenez, LMSW
Licensed Master Social Worker, Cobb Psychotherapy
As human beings, we are in a constant state of communication with ourselves and others. Empathy is an essential factor for effective communication. But what happens when you are attempting to communicate with someone who cannot be empathetic?
Communicating with a narcissist can be extremely difficult and overwhelming. It tends to be one-sided communication that is dominated by them. It can feel impossible to get your thoughts, emotions, and logic across to someone narcissistic.
When it feels your attempts at effectively communicating with a narcissist have failed you, here are some communication techniques specifically tailored to narcissistic tendency:
Don’t respond out of emotions
Narcissistic behaviors can be hurtful and feel like extreme personal attacks. But the reality is that narcissism does not discriminate; their arrogant behaviors and attitudes tend to show up in all their interpersonal relationships.
Being aware that their insecurities are what guide these negative tendencies can make it more manageable to not become reactive and escalate the conversation. Taking time to respond is extremely important to lessen the chances of the conversation becoming more negative.
Paraphrasing what’s being expressed
At its core, NPD is a need for constant admiration. Due to the need for admiration, it is important to be attentive and visibly indicate that you’re listening and engaged. Paraphrasing techniques are a useful way to get this message across while also allowing the person to hear themselves.
Example: “It’s important to me that I fully understand you. What I am hearing you say is that you believe I’ve wronged you in some way.”
Use the PCC method: praise, confront, and compliment
Narcissists get a very bad reputation and although it is understandable because of the negative interpersonal behaviors. Shaming and ridiculing won’t solve or change the situation.
Using what I like to call the PCC method can help attune to your need and theirs. Express praises followed by the message you’d like to express and end it with a compliment. This method attunes to the narcist’s need to be admired while also allowing you to express yourself.
Keep conversations short
When communicating with someone narcissistic, it is best to keep interactions short. Narcissists have an impairment in interpersonal functioning which means intimacy and empathy are almost impossible to reach.
Elongating the communication tends to open the door for those impairments to come out.
Related: How to Talk to a Narcissist
Keep a neutral stand; Do not disagree or agree
It’s important to stay true to yourself. However, that can be extremely difficult when communicating with a narcissist. Narcissist tendencies bring many to doing things they normally wouldn’t. It’s because of this that staying neutral when engaging in communication is so important.
Examples of neutral stands:
- “Thank you for sharing that.”
- “I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.”
- “I hear what you’re saying” “I can see that’s what you believe.”
Dr. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
Psychoanalyst, Choosing Therapy | Author, “Are You Living with a Narcissist?“
Communicating with a narcissistic relationship partner
Given that a narcissist lacks empathy and seeks continuous admiration, he will respond favorably if you only talk with him about praising his accomplishments daily.
However, eventually, you will feel invisible and unheard because you have deleted yourself from any real back and forth communication that includes your thoughts about yourself and your activities.
I suggest thinking of admiring the narcissist as step one and then beginning to give suggestions or points of view of your own about his activities as step two.
Notice if your ideas that expand on his interests are listened to. You will be progressing in communication but still on his terms because you are helping him. If he ignores your ideas and changes the subject or leaves the room, you may feel defeated, but don’t give up if you want this relationship to potentially grow.
If he can tolerate some of your own ideas that even may differ from his because he finds you are helping him become more effective, he may continue to listen, and real dialogue continues. But this is still for his benefit.
After a while, you might try and point out that you would enjoy each other more if you talked about your own interests as well. He won’t decline this suggestion, but you are bringing out his pattern of ignoring you.
If he realizes you are pointing out something that has limited your relationship, and he feels criticized, he may begin to feel humiliated and cut short this conversation. What I’m suggesting is that for your own self-regard, you try to broaden his spectrum of conversation to incrementally include you.
If you are successful, you will be helping him tolerate some frustration when he is not the center of focus and be building your own confidence. This may take weeks, months, or years.
If this relationship is meaningful and important to you, this indirect approach to expanding your capacity to communicate together will be worth the effort. Because it is slow, you may prevent bouts of rage or silence and perhaps actually create some mutuality. Depending on how severe the narcissism is will affect how effective you are.
Related: How Does Narcissism Affect Relationships?
Communication with a narcissistic employer or boss
If you enjoy your work and are trying to build your career, which may be dependent on meeting the needs of the narcissistic employer, try to carry out his instructions dutifully and effectively because it will make both of you look good.
If, however, you want to exceed those expectations in time and make your own mark in the company or place of work, then you are trying to find out if you can be seen not as his agent only but as a self-directed, even innovative employee on your own.
If your innovations improve his standing, they will most likely be accepted though he may take the credit. Continue on branching out to include more than this boss in your network. If you reach out to take on more responsibilities that again enhance his position, you are expanding yourself but actually maintaining the status quo.
You may discover others are now beginning to admire your work and notice that you are valuable in the company. This could lead to a promotion and even shift you to a new boss.
This might anger the narcissist who may sabotage your goals to keep him as the kingpin. You will not be able to communicate this directly with him because he will deny it and may, in some unexplained ways, suggest your job may be threatened, cutting off communication.
However, if others have recognized your expanded workload, you may thank the narcissist for the training he has given you to meet his need for admiration but then be clear you are moving forward without him.
This would be a very powerful communication.
But it will not be in the narcissist’s interest to have an outburst with you because he will humiliate himself in front of others that way. Consider finding ways to show he is not losing in this shift but, in fact, having an opportunity to challenge yet a new employee under him.
Communicating with a narcissistic parent
As a child or as an adult, you will have discovered your parent seeks you to increase his goals, meet his expectations, regard your achievements as his, and your individuality will be squashed, especially if your interests don’t jive with his.
If you are in a two-parent family, your other parent may become an ally in communicating with the narcissistic parent unless that parent is also under his thumb.
As a child, it’s very important at school to allow others (teachers, coaches, your peers) to pay attention to you and your interests, even if at first you hide these connections in your communications with your narcissistic parent. But it is essential for building your own self-esteem and self-regard to be influenced favorably by others.
You need to build your identity separate from your narcissistic parent if you want to grow emotionally and academically.
Communicating with distance may become the parent-child and especially parent-teen relationship. You will probably discover if your achievements don’t aggrandize this parent, he will lose interest in your activities and in you. He may punish you for not being more attentive to him by grounding you to prevent you from being influenced by others and increasing your isolation.
Related: How a Narcissistic Parent Affects a Child
It may be frightening to argue with this narcissistic parent when you realize you are punished for developing your own life. Understanding your parent’s desperate need to maintain center stage in your life is daunting. The communication will be heated.
You will be faulted and criticized. You may be accused of doing to him what he is doing to you. He may start suggesting you aren’t mentally balanced. This is gaslighting ‘communication,’ meaning you are being falsely accused of being out of line or even ‘crazy.’
At this point, seek professional counseling to clarify your own mental health. Minimize communication with your narcissistic parent who is mistreating you. When you regain your sense of self, you can decide how much communication you choose to continue with this parent, when and how often, especially as an adult.
Dr. Brenda Wade
Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Advisor, Online for Love
Be non-emotional and keep responses to simple yes and no as often as possible
Get ready for a mirage of attacks and tighten your belt for the emotional rollercoaster that you are about to ride. Communicating with a Narcissist will be a difficult feat as they are professional emotional seekers and drama evokers.
Narcissists are champion re-inventors of reality and will do so to achieve their personal agenda. Strap down the hatches for the attacks and narcissistic rages to begin. Equipped with the appropriate mental state of mind, you can get through this.
Just remember, it is important to see a Narcissist for who they really are and not become a victim of theirs—just like the Wizard of Oz, hiding behind his curtain as a powerful figure trying to control everything, when in reality he was a slight person using mechanical instruments to present himself as more than he is.
Narcissists don’t feel good enough about themselves, so they project themselves as something more, something better, something powerful. It is all posturing, and that is the dangerous part. Narcissists will do anything to be able to feel good about who they are, even at your expense.
Having worked with a number of very famous Narcissists over the years, I can tell you from first-hand experience that they are not bad people. They are, in fact, people that have suffered a lot and oftentimes have a history of trauma and neglect. They often become brilliant overachievers at the expense of their own emotional development.
To have the best chance at successful communication, remember these important steps:
- Limit your communication. A Narcissist will attempt to hijack your time and go in every direction but the direction of the point at task. They are masters at creating smoke screens, so put on your smoke vision goggles.
- Have an “emotion-free” communication. Do not let a Narcissist evoke an emotional reaction from you, which is exactly what they want to do. Instead, be non-emotional and keep responses to simple yes and no as often as possible.
- Keep the communication short and simple. Make sure you are specific and to the point.
- Do not question their sense of superiority. Just let it roll off your shoulder and keep the end of the communication in sight instead of fixating on their unrealistic adoration of self.
- Do not engage them if you do not agree with something they are saying. There is no way that they will see it your way, and it is better to just move on and stay on track.
- Use quiet and active listening to understand what they really want and filter through the drama they are trying to create.
- Look them directly in the eyes if you are talking in person. This shows a Narcissist that you are respecting them, but at the same time, you are showing your own strength.
Ultimately, steer the communication in the direction you want and do not let them seize the opportunity to create emotional stress for you. Life’s too short to be controlled by a Narcissist.
Dr. Alexis Moreno, PsyD, MA
Clinical and Community Psychologist | Health Coach | Founder, Wit and Reason
Know what matters to them
In order to communicate effectively with someone with a narcissistic personality disorder or with narcissistic traits, you need to know what they value and perceive as their strengths.
Your communication with them will need to describe how the subject matter impacts what’s important to them. You will also need to be able to talk up their perceived strengths and their ability to take on whatever you are asking of them.
Increase empathy and emphasize their benefits
People with narcissistic traits tend to present with a high level of self-centeredness.
They generally experience a lack of empathy and have difficulty recognizing other people’s desires, experiences, and feelings. So it would be ineffective to expect a person with a narcissistic personality disorder or with narcissistic traits to know or consider your needs.
You would need to clearly communicate your needs in a very strategic and tactful manner that brings your needs to their awareness while reinforcing how your needs benefit them.
You would need to be able to communicate in a manner that presents strength, power, and confidence. When brought to their attention, the needs, desires, or feelings of others are likely perceived as signs of weakness or vulnerabilities by a person with narcissism.
Considering that a person with narcissistic traits likely requires excessive admiration, others have an opportunity to encourage the person to put themself in your position to increase understanding of your needs, reinforce their efforts and accomplishments, and be explicit in how meeting your needs will impact them.
Avoid judgments and criticisms
People with narcissistic traits commonly experience a severe lack of self-awareness and may not recognize the hurt they inflict on others. The grandiose self-centeredness trait in narcissism is a guarded wall protecting their person’s significant low self-esteem.
So, when this barrier is challenged or fractured, the threat of their insecurities being exposed will likely cause the person to become even more defensive, hostile, and guarded as a means of self-protection.
Presenting any perceived judgment or criticism of the person will not be effectively received.
Instead, the person needs to be able to come to conclusions and realizations on their own. Socratic questioning about others’ experiences while expressing your admiration for their ability to practice self and other reflection is a more effective way to address issues.
Admiration, explore, reinforce, and prime
A person with narcissistic traits likely requires excessive admiration. Begin your conversation by providing positive feedback and acknowledgment of their reported values, skills, efforts, and accomplishments.
Introduce the incident or subject matter you want to address with them by describing the facts. Invite the person to explore others’ possible experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
If they only focus on the positive, encourage them to consider what others “might” be feeling. Then, identify secondary gains that the person would likely experience if they continued to use their reported values and skills to make whatever changes are needed.
Prime the person with success by expressing your belief in their abilities.
Dr. Nicolas Sikaczowski
Psychiatrist | Founder, Peace Behavioral Health LLC
Remember to only validate and support behaviors or emotions that are actually valid
To communicate with a narcissist, it is important to understand what traits a narcissist may have. In short, according to the DSM-5, a narcissist may:
- Have a grandiose sense of self-importance
- Be preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believe they are “special” and unique and can only associate with others of similar perceived status
- Require excessive admiration
- Have a sense of entitlement
- Be interpersonally exploitative
- Lack empathy
- Be envious
- Show arrogance
As with all personality disorders, Narcissism is ego-syntonic, meaning people with high degrees of narcissism generally do not feel that they have a problem, nor do they feel they need to change without external motivation.
However, narcissists often suffer from many problems they may not initially realize.
Narcissists may suffer from never feeling entirely fulfilled, feeling frantic in their search for others who will admire them or who will validate their specialness. The distress they feel from this may be obscured by a high level of grandiosity, self-promotion, or even misdirected rage.
To help a narcissist overcome these difficulties, they will have to realize they exist and are a source of their own distress. This is not an easy process.
Narcissists tend to feel shame and humiliation in response to relatively mild slights. They may feel wounded and lash out if they feel criticized in any way. They often have difficulty grasping the internal experience of others.
In order to have a narcissist realize the distress caused to you or others by their narcissistic behaviors, you may have to have them realize the potential consequences of their behaviors for themselves. This may be the loss of a relationship, loss of a promotion, loss of admiration, etc.
However, they are unlikely to simply accept negative feedback without it being given alongside much validation and support. It is important to remember to only validate and support behaviors or emotions that are actually valid and not give false praise or validation.
If you can build significant rapport with a narcissist, you can then focus on collaborative problem solving and mentalization techniques, utilizing questions such:
- “What did you imagine I was thinking?”
- “I can imagine feeling sad and angry about that if I had been in that situation.”
Communicating with a narcissist will take confidence in yourself and will likely be a long and difficult journey through many of their potentially hurtful ego defenses.
Ultimately, most attempts to help a narcissist understand their narcissism and reasons for change will likely fail, and reasonable expectations should be appraised early. In the end, narcissists’ own future life experiences may be the only potential vehicle for their change, and caring for one’s own mental health should always remain a priority.
Clinical Psychologist | Professor of Psychology | Author, “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Narcissistic Relationship“
Less is more when communicating with a narcissist
Communicating with a narcissist may be a bit more about your expectations and radical acceptance than about the actual communication. In many ways, communicating with a narcissist is luck.
If you catch them on a good day, then they may hear you clearly, and it’s successful. If you catch them at a moment when they are feeling insecure, inadequate, stressed, frustrated or disappointed about something – then it will be rageful and difficult. It’s them, not you.
So having realistic expectations that it all comes down to the kind of day the narcissist is having is key.
I often share with my clients a tool called the DEEP technique for communicating with narcissists. DEEP stands for:
- Don’t Defend
- Don’t Engage
- Don’t Explain
- Don’t Personalize
And I tell them to go deep – when you do these things, the hole gets dug deeper, and the self-blame is worse.
Less is more when communicating with a narcissist, and realistic expectations essential that you don’t blame yourself when you catch them on a bad day.
Licensed Attorney | Toxic Workplace Coach | Founder and CEO, Lynn Catalano Speaks
Learn how they like to communicate and embrace it
Communicating with a narcissist is especially difficult as they don’t communicate well or sometimes at all. I’ve found it helpful to record some conversations as they tend to change their stories and gaslight you on what actually happened.
If you really want to communicate with a narcissist, learn how they like to communicate, whether via email, text, phone, or in person, and embrace it. Narcissists don’t like to be challenged.
Communicating with a narcissist boss
Narcissist bosses (toxic bosses) lead with the mantra “my way or the highway.” Not only do you need to embrace their way of communicating, but you also become a trusted member of the organization.
Help your toxic boss succeed. Toxic bosses don’t want to hear the negatives. Focus on what you can contribute that’s positive.
Communicating with a narcissist family member
Narcissists in the family also don’t like to be challenged. The best way to communicate with these people is with someone else present, so it’s more difficult to change their story later.
Also, in my experience, it may be best to go no contact with this person. If you have to see them at holidays or weddings or funerals, just know it’s temporary.
These people are often seeking attention and recognition, and it feels like they’re giving a presentation to the family. There’s a reason you don’t see them often.
Protecting your mental health when dealing with a narcissist
The key to maintaining your mental health when dealing with a narcissist is setting your boundaries and finding your beacon of hope.
I define your beacon of hope as a support network, whether it’s your friends, sibling, co-worker, spouse, whoever is there for you and will listen to you. You need an impartial sounding board, so you know it’s not you, it’s not your fault.
Narcissists like to isolate you from your people. Don’t let it happen.
Nationally Certified Career Counselor | Founder, Professionals In Transition
Understand that a narcissistic person simply doesn’t care how you feel
In an attempt to draw you into their manipulative web, they may flatter you and “value” your opinion. But, when the door is closed, a highly manipulative workplace bully emerges who enjoys inflicting pain and torture without remorse.
Here’s how to deal with them:
- Communicate in a neutral business tone in person and (even more important) online.
- Stay cool under pressure. Do not react to the Narcissist who will continually try to bait you in meetings.
- Disconnect the gossip line. Do not engage in spreading fear or rumors. This is the “lifeline of the Narcissist.” If there is an issue, squelch gossip by facing it directly. Don’t worry; you’ll still get “the scoop” when people know you can be trusted and keep their confidence.
- Document, Document, Document. Regardless of whether the Narcissist is a coworker or boss, document your:
- Discussions with follow-up e-mails.
- E-mails sorted by issue.
- Agreed upon role in projects and planned due dates.
- Updates any time there are changes. This is critical to pinpoint when the agreed-upon deadline is missed by another teammate.
- Calendar and new project dates revised for all to see.
Former Therapist | Mental Health Writer
Don’t respond if you feel emotional—wait until you are calm
The most important thing when communicating with a person who may have a narcissist personality disorder is to remain calm. Don’t respond if you feel emotional. Wait until you are calm.
If the person refuses to listen to what you say or doesn’t seem to understand, don’t argue. People with these disorders may display thinking that is quite irrational. In this case, you probably won’t be able to reason with the person.
In those situations, it’s best to just remain calm and just end the conversation.
Also, maintain your boundaries and detach from the conversation when necessary. So, if the person becomes verbally or emotionally abusive, end the conversation. It’s extremely important to maintain strict boundaries in these situations.
Consider a meditator
If the above does not work, then I would suggest having a 3rd party as a mediator, especially in cases of child custody or divorce.
Relationship Expert and Matchmaker, Exclusive Matchmaking
Neutral emotions are the way to go
When it comes to communicating with a narcissist, the idea would be to make it as brief and to the point as possible. Neutral emotions are the way to go, and definitely knowing ahead of time that you shouldn’t go off-topic or go down an emotional rabbit hole with them will be key.
Narcissists have a way of engaging that could enrage or blow up a conversation and not resolve a thing. Think of gaslighting, and when you are trying to resolve a problem, gaslighting is one of their many tools in an arsenal to win a fight.
You aren’t trying to win though, you are just trying to resolve an issue, and when you lose control of the conversation, you have lost control of good communication and resolving any problems that you have.
Narcissists make everything about them and generally aren’t able to understand or care about your needs. Expect the communication to be about them and one-sided. It might be hard for them to see your point of view, and it is very likely they won’t.
They will turn everything back around on you to the point where your discussion shifts to areas that have nothing to do with the original communication. Be aware that this could happen. Try writing everything down so you can stay on point instead of feeling emotionally charged at the moment.
- Keep it brief
- Don’t engage in emotional manipulation
- Don’t fall for the gaslighting
- Maintain your composure and emotions
Certified Life Transformation Coach, Online Divorce
The most important thing to do is to detach emotionally
Who are narcissists? Narcissism is a feature of the psyche in which an individual perceives themselves as a privileged person whose interests are above others.
They can be overly arrogant, often manipulate, and even emotionally abuse others. It is not simple to communicate with them, and it is easier to immediately interrupt all contacts.
But what if the narcissist is your loved one, and you can’t distance yourself from them?
- The most important thing to do is to detach emotionally: The narcissist lives in their comfort zone, parasitizing others. Changes in behavior for the better from such personality types are almost impossible. Therefore, it is essential to monitor and control your emotions when dealing with such people. Keep a cold mind when communicating with narcissists. Remember, they are confident that they are perfect and do not make mistakes.
- Build personal boundaries: To get what they want, the narcissists will manipulate and instill guilt in you. Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings and failures. You are only responsible for your own actions.
- Stick to the topic of the conversation: Narcissistic people will often take the conversation off-topic in order to confuse you. Carefully follow the topic of the conversation, analyze what they say to you, and do not get fooled by provocations. Carry on the conversation about the original topic.
- Try to keep all communication to a minimum and use only monosyllabic answers like Yes or No.
- If you need to get something out of the narcissist, compliment them. Praise them more, pointing out their uniqueness. In this case, the narcissist will even be motivated to fulfill your request.
Dating Expert, Datingscout
Not all narcissists are pathological; some are just extra vain and overly selfish in many things. So, communicating with one is tiring, but not entirely impossible.
While it is true that talking to a person with narcissistic traits can be difficult and tiring most of the time, interaction with them can also be cathartic in some ways.
Take note that narcissists only engage in meaningful conversations if they feel important and regarded.
Flattery and admiration
Narcissists enjoy being admired and flattered, so a few words of appreciation and commendation would be a great starter.
Narcissists tend to overrate and exaggerate, so it is best to be extra attentive and try to paraphrase their statements to make it seem that you are interested in whatever they are saying.
A true narcissist is condescending. Patience really is a virtue when dealing with these kinds of people.
Listen in one ear, out in the other
Talking to a narcissist can actually take a toll on your mental energy. Most of the time, narcissists only talk about themselves – they often put themselves on a pedestal, and it’s difficult to challenge their beliefs. So, sometimes, it’s best not to take “digest” everything a narcissist says.
Take it as something you listen to at present, but choose to disregard afterward. This could be better for your mental health – at least you don’t need to linger on the thoughts and insights of a narcissist.
Start introducing your points/topics
When a narcissist feels comfortable enough, that is the time when you can start whatever it is you want to talk about. Narcissists tend to agree more when they feel accepted and applauded. Even if they have opposing opinions in your discussions, they tend to brush it off out of fear of rejection.
Remember, people with narcissistic traits have fragile self esteems. They hide their vulnerability under their displaced confidence.
Thank them and wish them well
People with these traits are not entirely evil. Behind that extreme self-entitlement and exaggerated confidence are hurt and scared individuals. They can be annoying, but they only want love and acceptance. Don’t we all?
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to communicate effectively with a narcissist?
Communication is important in any relationship, including with a narcissist. Here are some reasons why effective communication is important:
It can prevent misunderstandings: Narcissists often have a distorted view of reality, so effective communication can help clear up misunderstandings.
It can help you control your emotions: Narcissists can be emotionally draining. Effective communication can help you control your emotions and avoid getting caught up in their drama.
It can improve the relationship: Although you may never have a perfect relationship with a narcissist, effective communication can help improve the relationship and reduce conflict.
It can help you set boundaries: By clearly communicating your needs and boundaries, you can protect yourself from being taken advantage of by a narcissist.
What should I avoid when communicating with a narcissist?
Although communicating with a narcissist can be difficult, it’s important to avoid certain behaviors that could make the situation worse. Here are some things you should avoid:
Don’t take it personally: Avoid attacking a narcissistic person’s character or personality. Stick to the facts and avoid getting personal.
Don’t expect empathy: Narcissists lack empathy for others. So don’t expect them to understand or sympathize with your point of view.
Don’t accept blame: Narcissists may try to shift blame or responsibility onto others. Don’t accept blame for something that isn’t your fault.
Don’t engage in power struggles: Narcissists may try to engage you in power struggles or manipulate you. Don’t engage in their games.
What if I need to give negative feedback to the narcissist?
Giving negative feedback to a narcissist can be challenging, but it’s important to be honest and direct. Focus on the behavior that needs to change rather than attacking the person’s character or personality.
Be specific about what needs to change and give constructive feedback on how it can be improved. Avoid getting emotional or defensive, and stick to the facts.
Can a narcissist feel love?
Narcissists are capable of feeling love, but their understanding of love may differ from that of a non-narcissist. They may see love as a way to boost their own ego or as a means to get what they want.
However, narcissists may also have problems with intimacy and empathy, which can make it difficult for them to have healthy relationships.
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