Enough about me! What do you think about me?
If you have the tendency to make every conversation about you, you might be a conversational narcissist and not even know it.
I used to have this friend from school named Geoff who was very smart, political, funny, and had incredibly high energy. We'd talk on the phone all the time ... and the conversation would always be about him.
It would go something like this:
Me: Hi, Geoff, how are you?
Geoff: OMG, I have to tell you everything that's happening in my life! It's been nuts.
Then he'd talk (barely taking a breath) for 45 to 55 minutes about his life, how he felt about it, past stories that related, and every other conversational tangent under the sun.
When he'd exhausted everything he had to talk about, he'd asked me how I was:
Me: I'm great ...
Geoff: Oh, I gotta go, I'll talk to you soon.
I don't think he meant to be rude; he just was caught up in his own drama — often of his own making. Geoff wasn't a conversational narcissist; he just didn't have any self-awareness, or maybe it was it didn't have much awareness of other people.
In the book, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life by Charles Derber, he describes conversational narcissism as the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America. He writes, "It occurs in informal conversations among friends, family, and coworkers."
Conversational narcissism happens much more subtly than making a U-turn in the conversation to bring it back to you. Most people know that it's pretty rude to at least not pretend to be interested in what the other person is saying when you're having a conversation with them. Nobody wants to be labeled a self-centered asshat (unless they're in show business or politics).
Haven't we all felt that intense desire, and that growing excitement, to take over the conversation? You feel as if you're going to explode if the other person doesn't stop talking so you can jump in.
You pretend to be completely focused on what they're saying, but you're really only catching keywords every now and then. You aren't listening; you're planning your next hilarious story that has to do with the topic being discussed ... sort of.
In an article from the Art of Manliness, the writers say that during a conversation, each person makes initiatives. These initiatives can either be attention-giving or attention-getting. Conversational narcissists focus more on attention-getting because they're more interested in getting their own needs met.
Attention-getting initiatives can be active or passive.
With active conversational narcissism, how a person responds can either be the shift-response (as in shifting the attention back to oneself), or the support-response (keeping the attention on the speaker and the topic he/she has introduced).
Since conversational narcissism can be kind of sneaky, we'll put words like "Really?" and, "Oh, yeah," and, "Huh," right before the other person makes it all about themselves.
Here's an example of shift-response:
Jamie: I didn't get any sleep last night.
Dylan: Really? I slept like a baby. Did I tell you about my new mattress? Well, it's really a good one, but getting it into my apartment was a nightmare.
Here's the same scenario with a support-response:
Jamie: I didn't get any sleep last night.
Dylan: Why? Did you have a lot of caffeine yesterday, or are you worried about something?
According to Derber, a "more acceptable — and more pervasive — approach [to conversation] is one where a speaker makes temporary responsive concessions to the other person's topic before intervening to turn the focus back to himself. The self-obsessed conversationalist combines the shift-response with the support-response, giving the impression that he's as interested in others as if is in himself."
Take this exchange, for example:
Matt: I was sick all last week with a cold.
Lance: Oh, yuck. (support response)
Matt: I feel better now though.
Lance: Man, the last time I was sick was intense. I was so sick, and you know I never complain when I'm sick. I just try to take care of myself so nobody else gets sick. (shift-response)
In the end, the best (and most satisfying) kinds of conversation are those where neither party seeks to monopolize them, and there's give and take with the natural flow of ideas — really being interested in what the other person is saying, not just feigning interest until it's your turn to speak.
If it was just about you all the time, that would be boring.