How to Avoid Conversational Narcissism?

You can’t wait to see your friend (it’s been ages!). You meet up for coffee and, lo and behold, you can’t get a word in.

You: I just changed jobs. My new job is more enjoyable. And the environment is much more healthy.

Friend: I actually changed jobs too. It’s worlds apart from my last job. You see, my last job…blah blah blah.

Twenty minutes later…

Friend: I even get free coffee and lunch every Thursday. Did I tell you about what happened last Thursday?…

If you haven’t figured out by now, your friend’s committing conversational narcissism.

Your friend’s not the only conversational narcissist

Sociologist, Charles Derber conducted a study where he watched and recorded 1,500 conversations. From those conversations, how many had some form of conversational narcissism?

Most of them.

That’s right. Most of those conversations ran the same way as the above scenario.But this result isn’t surprising. According to Derber, there’s very little social support in American society. Which means people are fighting for whatever social support they can get. So, it’s not surprising when a conversation keeps on going back to the speaker.

But just because it’s not surprising doesn’t mean it’s appropriate or considerate. (In fact, it’s quite the opposite.)Luckily there are some steps you can follow to ensure you avoid conversational narcissism (and conversational narcissists) at all costs.

Read on to learn how to avoid these types of conversations and the people who can’t get enough of them.

1. Know what the types of responses are

These response types boil down to two: shift-response and support response.

Shift-Response

The above scenario is a prime example of a shift-response. You say something. And the other person finds some angle to turn the subject around to them.

In the example, the friend used the “changing jobs” subject to focus on his job change. He then segue-wayed to how bad his last job was versus how great his new one is now. Conversational narcissists love this response type, and use it often. However, some are sneakier about it.

The conversational narcissist could insert a few words that make it look like they are talking to you. But the “words of acknowledgment” are more a farce. And a way for them to not look like a jerk when they steer the conversation to them…for the tenth time.

“I know. Don’t you hate it when that happens?! Boy, do I have the story for you…”

“That’s awesome. I’m like that too. The other day, I…”

Support-Response

There are several types of support-responses. These responses show that the speaker is listening and interested in what the other person has to say.

They can be short words of acknowledgment:

“Yes.”

“Hmmm…”

“Ok.”

And follow-up questions:

“What do you mean by that?”

“When did you get there?”

Or follow-up statements that nudge the other person to expand on their story:

“That sounds interesting. Tell me more.”

“I didn’t know you did that. I’d love to hear more about it.”

2. Understand undercover conversational narcissism

We say undercover conversational narcissism because it takes some stealth to do it. Let alone, identify it. Another name for this is passive conversational narcissism.

Basically, this means that the conversationalist will let you talk, but won’t supply you with many to any support-responses.

It would go something like this:

You: I just changed jobs. My new job is more enjoyable. And the environment is much more healthy.

Friend: (No response. Looks bored.)

You: It’s going really well. I even get every other Friday off.

Friend: (Looks at you, half-smiles.) Hmm…(in an uninterested tone).

You: Well…um…. How’s your job going?

Friend: I thought you’d never ask! I changed jobs too, blah blah blah…

You see how this was a ploy to get the focus back on the conversational narcissist?

In some cases, this could border on conversational gaslighting, where the conversational narcissist tries to make you believe through their body language and lack of words that what you have to say is unimportant.

Yikes.

3. Know what a healthy conversation is

You may think that a healthy conversation is all support-response, but it’s actually both support and shift responses.

In a healthy conversation, your friend really wants to know what’s been going on with you. Just like you want to know what’s going on with your friend.

In this sense, a conversation is more like a tennis match with words, where you rally with one another.

It would go like this:

You: I just changed jobs. My new job is more enjoyable. And the environment is much more healthy.

Friend: Really? I’m glad you’re in a better work setting. The last time we talked it sounded like you were having a hard time. So, what’s the new job like?

You: It’s great. I can take every other Friday off. And each month we get catered lunch. What’s been going on with you?

Friend: That sounds like it’s a better fit. I actually started a new job too, go figure…

4. Perspective change

Knowing what a healthy conversation should be like may require you to make a perspective change. From believing that you should only use support-responses and that it’s normal to suffer during a conversation to realizing it takes two to tango, and good conversations are mutually beneficial.

This is especially necessary given that we live in the social media age. One of the negatives is that it seems to encourage conversational narcissism. Or, in social media terms, social media narcissism.

(Know that social media is a mixed bag. There have been studies that show social media elicits empathy.) It’s common to see a Facebook post or tweet that promotes the sharer, with many likes or retweets underneath it. The sharer promotes more and more, enjoying the audience and attention.

Sound a little familiar? Maybe there’s some conversational narcissism going around?

5. Give yourself some self-love

In order for a healthy conversation to come about, you and the other conversationalist need to be emotionally healthy. Meaning there’s no room for emotional neediness.

To become emotionally healthy, give yourself some self-love. Go for a walk. Get some exercise. Take a bath. Read a book. Write in a journal. Do what makes you feel good so you don’t feel like there’s a hole that desperately needs to be filled.

6. One question answers it all

How do you feel?

Drained: Chances are, you’re conversing with a conversational narcissist.

Recharged, content, and excited: You’re probably having a healthy conversation.

What do you think about this? We’d love to know! And be sure to check out our blog, including Co-Parenting With a Narcissist.