"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." - Epictetus
You pick up the phone. It's Jill. Again.
"Hi sweetie, just thought I'd give you a call! How are you?"
"Good thanks Jill. And you?"
"Oh, terrific! I wanted to tell you about my blah blah blah blah blah ..."
We've all had those people in our lives who seem to yap on about themselves ad nauseam. Once given the opportunity to talk about themselves, they'll snap it up in an instant showing little regard or interest in what you have to say. Ever. And if they do, you know it's a fake mask of politeness.
These people are the conversational narcissists in your life who hog every conversation you have, leaving your head spinning. Basically, talking to a conversational narcissist is like putting your head in a blender.
So, do you have a conversational narcissist in your life? There's only one way to find out ...
How To Spot The Conversational Narcissist
Not all narcissists are obnoxious or dislikeable people - in fact, many of them can be charming and appealing ... the only problem is that you hate talking to them. Why? Perhaps because you can pick up on the following character traits:
1. They have an exaggerated sense of self importance.
2. They're usually absorbed in fantasies of power, success, beauty and/or brilliance.
3. They have unreasonable expectations of other people, i.e. that everyone else should unquestioningly comply with them.
4. They overrate the importance of their achievements.
5. They crave constant validation, admiration and respect from the world.
Keeping these symptoms in mind, it's no wonder that the conversational narcissist loves drilling you with every detail of their lives ad infinitum. They truly believe that they're that special, interesting and important. It's part of their personality disorder.
Which Kind Of Conversational Narcissist Do You Know?
Luckily they're not like Pokémon. You only have two species of the conversational narcissist to worry about, so don't worry. These are the:
Active Conversational Narcissist's & Passive Conversational Narcissist's.
So let's explore the first.
Active Conversational Narcissism
This breed of narcissist always ends up shifting the attention onto themselves in conversations. They do this by giving a few "supportive responses" so as not to appear rude, but end up using more "shifting responses".
Please note that it's normal and healthy to share stuff about yourself, as long as you direct the conversation back to the other person. At least, this is what the common law of conversational etiquette says.
Example 1 - Supportive
Person A - "I'm going to buy a puppy today."
Person B - "Really? What breed are you wanting to get?"
Example 2 - Unsupportive
Person A - "I'm going to buy a puppy today."
Person B - "Really? I was thinking about buying a puppy for my daughter as well!"
Person A - "Oh, yeah?"
Person B - "Uh-huh, I thought that a golden retriever would be ... blah blah blah".
This subtle form of conversational narcissism occurs when you share something, and the conversational narcissist withholds their supporting responses until the conversation fizzle's out.
Supporting responses are for instance: acknowledgements that indicate you're listening, e.g "uh-huh", "OK", "Hmm". They're also statements that demonstrate active listening such as "that's awesome!", "why did you do that?", "what are you planning to do now?"
Passive conversational narcissists withhold these statements, showing disinterest so that the conversation ends up dying - and is directed back to them. Score!
Person A - "I'm going to the casino tonight!"
Person B - " (Pause) ... oh, right ... (pause)"
Person A - "I'm really excited because I won $200 last week!"
Person B - " (Silence) ..."
Person A - "Have you been there recently?"
Person B - "Oh yeah, I went a few weeks ago with my friends, it's really interesting because we ... blah blah blah".
How To Interact With A Conversational Narcissist
Talking to a conversational narcissist can be draining and tedious - especially if you see there's nothing in it for you. How about changing the way you look at things? Don't worry, I don't like the thought of changing something in myself either, especially when it's the narcissist who should change!
The fact is: you can't change anyone, so give up trying now. The only thing you can change is your outlook and perception. For instance, you could see talking to a conversational narcissist as a form of interpersonal training. You could also see it as a way to forge many great qualities such as patience, self-control (forbearance) and focus that all come with listening to a self-absorbed, insensitive and egotistical person.
According to the research I've done, the best way to interact smoothly with a narcissist is as following:
1. Don't demand much. Don't expect much.
2. Accept that you have to listen. A lot.
3. Don't worry about boosting the narcissists ego with your acknowledgements (it's not possible anyway).
4. For swift conversation, resist the temptation of challenging the narcissist's thoughts and desires.
5. Smile and keep quiet a lot.
I don't necessarily agree with this way of approaching narcissists all the time - but if you're not in the mood to stir the pot, these five rules will help you ease the tension that comes with talking to them.
On the other hand, if you're wanting to end a conversation with them quickly, I've found the following techniques work wonders:
- Talk about something really boring, and keep repeating what you've just said in different ways. You'll look a bit manic, but oh well.
- Stop giving supportive statements and use reverse psychology instead, i.e. become either an active or passive conversational narcissist yourself.
- Set a time limit. After half an hour or an hour leave the conversation, no matter what.
I'd love to hear any stories you have about conversational narcissism. So feel free to share below!
Photo by: Alexander Rentsch