Monday, 28 November 2011

Overcoming conversational narcissism

A lot of people I meet are conversational narcissists. They loove talking about themselves and will do anything and everything to make a conversation about them. This is expressed in a couple of ways:

Narcissists see conversations as an opportunity to flex their ego. If someone mentions an achievement
"I'm really proud of myself, I just got a promotion",
the narcissist will attempt to one-up them
"Oh yeah? That's great. I just got a promotion too! Doubled my pay rise!".

This becomes comical when it's not an achievement but a failure, e.g.
A: "I just crashed my car"
B: "Oh yeah? Well I just totalled mine last week! I was lucky to walk out alive!"

Narcissists get bored of talking about anything they're not involved in. Rather than seeking to learn more about a topic, they'll deflect it away "Speaking of roaming broadband, I just got back from a trip to Rome last night". It doesn't even have to be a verbal deflection. Simply withholding phatic communication will starve a conversation to death.

How to overcome conversational narcissism
One of my core beliefs is that "you can't change other people, you can only change yourself". I've been guilty of conversational narcissism on a few occasions, so I now do my best to short circuit that with the 30 second rule.

The 30 second rule
The idea behind the 30 second rule is that you should avoid talking for more than 30 seconds without involving the other person in some way. It might just be asking them a closed question "has that ever happened to you?" or you might open it up completely "what are your thoughts on that".

Capitalising on conversational narcissism
Now that you know how not to be a conversational narcissist, you're probably wondering what to do when someone else is being one. Rather than getting annoyed when someone only wants to talk about themselves, I take advantage of it. It's a great opportunity to learn a LOT about someone else in a very short space of time.

Most of the time that's very useful. It's free information. I would go so far as to say it's one of my main goals in conversations. It's an opportunity for me to learn how I can help them and how they might be able to help me.

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