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Dealing With Narcissistic Clients

© 2014 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.

Chicago, Illinois 60615 (773) 405-5916

How to Deal With Narcissistic Clients

Difficult clients can really disrupt business and work life, and narcissistic clients are some of the most difficult to work with. They can be rude, hurtful, immature, and devoid of limits. Their behavior can rob you of your peace of mind and affect your ability to provide high-level service.

Narcissism Defined

Narcissism can be defined as follows: “A pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one's self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's gratification, dominance and ambition” (Vakin, 2008).

Feeling good about oneself, loving oneself, and being self-interested are healthy traits that help people take care of themselves and their loved ones as well as achieve success. But people who have unhealthy narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder have an “inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration” (Mayo Clinic, 2010).

Although they portray themselves (and even believe) they are self-confident, at the core of their personality is fear, insecurity, anger, and anxiety. Narcissists are shallow, lack confidence, and alienated from self. This poor sense of self causes them to (a) create false selves of perfection and (b) work constantly to be in control (of self, people, and situations). As a result, they must carefully and continuously shape their images. Others are only useful if they (a) fit into their images of themselves and (b) supply them with what they need to maintain their images. In essence, others are viewed as functions and objects (a means to an end) and not people with their own lives, needs, feelings, and desires. When narcissists feel threatened or cannot use people (their narcissistic supply) to get their needs met (no matter how selfish or inappropriate their needs might be), they may become enraged and take retaliatory actions.

Narcissistic clients can really wreak havoc in a business owner's or professional's work life because they have a legal and an ethical duty to provide products, services, or assistance. This obligation can heighten narcissists' sense of entitlement and emboldened them to behave even more obnoxiously and hurtful.

Emotions and Behaviors of Narcissistic Clients

Extreme neediness fuels narcissistic people's excessive sense of entitlement. It also causes them to lack empathy for others because they cannot focus on anything or anybody but themselves. A narcissistic client might exhibit many of the following emotions and behaviors.

Managing Narcissistic Clients

Narcissistic people typically have very little, if any, awareness of their behavior. They live in denial and are simply too emotionally fragile to take responsibility for their actions (because this would shatter their "perfect" self-images). So they may require a higher level of attention then other clients. The following techniques will help you manage them.

Make them feel valued.

Although it is obvious your main objective is to meet your clients’ needs, reassuring narcissistic clients of their importance could help them feel more secure. Ways to accomplish this include the following:

Show empathy.  

Keep in mind that narcissists are fragile, needy, and fearful people who crave adoration and attention and act as though they are superior to others. Then image how awful and truly sad it would be to live with these debilitating emotional issues and not even know you have a problem.

Understanding that narcissistic clients are mentally impaired and probably in a lot of emotional pain can help you depersonalize their behavior and maintain your peace of mind.

Maintain respect.

That saying, “the customer is always right,” is, of course, wrong. But treating customers like they are always right is important for maintaining positive relationships with them. Even when they are absolutely wrong, it is better to express goodwill and understanding.

It is not easy to respect someone who shows little in return, but not taking their rude behavior personally will make it easier to maintain civility.

Set and maintain boundaries.

It is important for peace of mind and the bottom line to set limits with clients. It is even more imperative when dealing with narcissistic clients. Unlike more well-adjusted clients, they do not care about your business practices, schedule, or feelings. They can be completely unreasonable.

For instance, a narcissistic client may want you to complete a project before the agreed upon due date. If this is something you just cannot do, then she will have to wait. She may not like it, but you are within your rights to adhere to the agreed upon deadline.

Furthermore, verbal abuse and rude behavior should not be tolerated. Sharing your feelings about this kind of behavior – rather than reciprocating it or becoming distant – and tactfully asking that it stops might help.

Do not argue.

Getting into emotional warfare with a narcissistic client is just not worth it. Remaining calm and professional will make you feel better and help you protect your business's reputation.

If you are on the verge of arguing with the client, take a “time-out” to defuse the situation and regain composure. For instance, excuse yourself from the meeting room, place the client on hold during a telephone call, or take time to "cool down" before responding to an email.

Know yourself.

Developing self-awareness and identifying your emotional triggers will help you better manage relationships with clients regardless of their foibles. For instance, if you know pushiness (a narcissistic behavior) angers or offends you, then you can develop techniques for dealing with this behavior.

Psychotherapy, executive coaching, and self-help books are resources that can help you develop self-awareness and healthy coping strategies when dealing with narcissistic clients.

End the relationship.

Severing a relationship with a client is difficult because making money is the ultimate goal, so it is counterintuitive to fire a client. But business efficiencies, emotional well-being, and physical health are worth more than the revenue generated from an extremely difficult client. So, if working for a narcissistic client causes you great harm—becomes abusive, unmanageable, or too distressing—or causes your business to suffer, then ending the relationship may be the most financially savvy decision.

Sometimes when narcissistic clients realize you will not allow them to cross boundaries or mistreat you, they will sever the relationship, which is probably for the better.

Learning to manage relationships with narcissistic clients has many benefits.

Although working with narcissistic clients is challenging, learning how to manage them is important because difficult clients will always be a part of business life.

Moreover, developing healthier ways of dealing with narcissists and other hard-to-manage clients can increase customer retention and improve your business's reputation. It can also strengthen interpersonal skills, increase emotional well-being, and improve the quality of work life.


Mayo Clinic. (2010). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/narcissistic-personality-disorder/DS00652

Vakin, Sam. (2008). Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) Definition. Retrieved from http://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/narcissistic-personality-disorder-npd-definition/menu-id-1471/

Wikipedia. (2010). Reflective Listening. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_listening