5 Easy Ways To Stop Being A Conversational Narcissist

Listening can be as enjoyable as talking.

Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

We’ve all gotten good at talking about ourselves —maybe too good.

Our favorite topic is us, and we talk about ourselves all the time in blogs, personal essays, storytelling shows, networking events, parties, and social media.

Talking about ourselves has become a part of our personalities; you may not even be aware of how much time you spend at it.

TMI has gone from meaning too much talk about uncomfortable topics to just too much information period.

No longer is TMI our most disgusting bathroom habits, it’s excruciating specifics about our days, our venting about minor inconveniences that we experience, or our insistence on sharing the boring details of the dream we had the night before.

We overshare to the point where we’re self-obsessed; convinced that every-single-thing we say is riveting and that it would be a crime not to tell every person we encounter all about it.

You could be a storytelling champ but your trip to post-office would still be dull— unless your post office is run by sloths, owls, and dung-beetles.

The fact is that we get a lot of pleasure from talking about ourselves.

A study from Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab found that talking about oneself, especially to other people, was extremely rewarding and that our brain’s response is a lot like the release of dopamine, a chemical that has a part in pleasure, motivation, and learning.

We get off on talking about ourselves.

When we’re not talking about ourselves; we’re waiting for our opportunity to start talking about ourselves again, and planning what we’re going to say.

The more consumed we get with our stories and opinions, the more we become conversational narcissists.

Charles Derber in his book, “The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life,” describes conversational narcissism as “often subtle and unconscious, it’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself.”

The results of being someone who does all the talking is that it makes the other people involved feel alienated, unwanted, unappreciated, and as if they’re being lectured to about how everything about you is amazing and notable.

What you can do to combat conversational narcissism:

Talk less, listen more.

Bauer suggests following the 80–20 rule where you listen about 80% of the conversation and then only talk about yourself the remaining 20% of the time.

One of the rules of acting and improv is to listen to your partner, and it works in everyday life as well. For one thing, it’s a sign of respect that your attention is on the other person in the conversation, and what they’re saying.

The more you ramble on, the less of a conversation it becomes and more of a rant or a monologue.

Bryant H. McGill

Stay present:

Don’t look at your phone, or if you’re at a party, around the room for a new victim, I mean person to talk to.

Keep your attention on the speaker.

You should not be making plans to tell that joke that always kills, or how you can slip in a brag about your latest work accomplishment.

If you’re bored and find that your mind is wandering, go back and zero in on something that they’re saying. Everybody has something interesting about them and you’re not going to find it if you’re zoned-out while they’re talking.

When you’re present while someone is talking; it’s easier for you not to lose the trail of the conversation.

Stay focused on what they’re saying, not on what you expect them to say. This keeps the conversation flowing, without your partner having to go back and re-explain something they just said.

Keep the eye-contact going:

We transmit a lot of information with our body language, facial expressions, and our eyes. It’s clear to the person you’re speaking to that you’re somewhere else planning the great response when you look at them with glassy-eyes.

Ask for their thoughts:

It makes a good impression on others when you ask them what they think about things, especially if they know you won’t judge them on their answers.

Follow up with relevant questions that refer to what they said.

Creative questioning lets the speaker know that you’re listening, and it can make them feel understood.

Don’t hijack the conversation to bring it back to you:

There are two ways that you can respond in a conversation: shift-response and support-response.

A shift-response (the conversational narcissist’s go-to move) is responding in a way that shifts the attention back to them.

An example of shift-response:

Spencer: I hurt my knee bike riding the other day. It’s still swollen and painful.

Bennett: Oh, I killed my knee hiking. I had to have surgery and let me tell you, that surgery was rough, and the recovery was even worse. I couldn’t go back to work for two weeks.

This is also known as the “nobody has it worse than me” syndrome.

Here’s the same scene with the support-response:

Spencer: I hurt my knee bike riding the other day.

Bennett: That’s rough. Are you applying ice and heat to help with the pain and swelling?

The support-response shows empathy, caring, or at the very least that you’re paying attention.

Be patient and don’t interrupt:

Interrupting someone while they’re talking is rude and it sends the message that what they’re saying isn’t important.

You’re not going to hurry someone along in the conversation by cutting them off and it makes you look like a jerk.

By talking over someone is insulting to them and could inspire them to never want to engage in conversation with you again.

Talking about ourselves has its benefits and I’m not advocating to hold back on your feelings, insights, or stories just don’t monopolize every conversation.

Writer for The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm. Christineschoenwaldwriter.com

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