10 Signs You're Talking To A 'Conversational Narcissist'

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two people talking side by side

Nobody wants to be labeled as being self-centered, but haven't we all felt that intense desire and 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 only catching keywords now and then. You aren't listening; you're planning your next hilarious story that has to do with the topic being discussed.

If you tend to make every conversation about you, you might be a conversational narcissist and not even know it.

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What is a conversational narcissist?

A conversational narcissist is someone who consistently steers conversations back to themselves, having no regard for the thoughts or feelings of others.

This type of person dominates discussions by constantly seeking attention and validation. They exhibit self-centered behavior, interrupt others, and redirect the focus onto their own achievements or problems.

The primary goal of a conversational narcissist is to maintain the spotlight and control the narrative, leaving little room for genuine exchange or empathy with others.

In the book "The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life" by sociologist Charles Derber, he describes conversational narcissism as the key manifestation of dominant attention-getting psychology in America.

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.

I used to have a 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.

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 drama, often of his own making. Geoff wasn't necessarily a conversational narcissist; he just didn't have any self-awareness... or maybe it was that he didn't have much awareness of other people. Either way, his behavior was indicative conversational narcissism.

So, how do you know if you have a friend like Geoff who always seems to steer the conversation to themselves?

10 Signs of a Conversational Narcissist

1. They use attention-getting initiatives.

During a conversation, each person makes several 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.

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2. They use shift responses.

With active conversational narcissism, how a person responds can either be a shift-response (as in shifting the attention back to oneself) or a 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?" "Oh, yeah," and "Huh" right before the other person can make it all about themselves.

Here's an example of a 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 a good one, but getting it into my apartment was a nightmare.

Here's the same scenario with a supportive 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?

3. They control the topic.

Controlling the topic of the conversation shows self-centeredness and a desire for attention. Conversational narcissists prioritize their own interests over others when they do this. They truly don't care about the needs of others and have a lack of genuine interest in what other people have to say.

Conversational narcissists dominate discussions and rarely allow others to contribute so that they stay on topics they, themselves, know about and can contribute to.

4. They constantly interrupt.

People who are conversational narcissists tend to interrupt discussions, as they have a strong desire to assert themselves, be the center of attention, and control the narrative. By interrupting, they redirect the focus of the topic towards themselves and their personal interests.

When conversational narcissists interrupt, they care only about their thoughts and opinions. They see the conversation as an opportunity to showcase their knowledge, achievements, or personal conflicts, rather than engaging in a mutually respectful exchange of ideas.

5. They give unsolicited advice.

Conversational narcissists often feel the need to assert their knowledge or expertise, even when it's not requested by the other person. As they do so in discussions, these individuals prioritize their own opinions, interjecting with suggestions and never considering the person's boundaries.

They have a lack of respect for others' autonomy and hold a strong desire to assert control over the conversation. Unfortunately, conversational narcissists disregard the fact that other people have unique experiences.

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6. They always try to one-up you.

No one is more competitive than a conversational narcissist. They quite literally follow one golden rule: Whatever you have done, they have done better. Oh, you hurt your arm? Well, they broke theirs three times.

They may believe this will move the conversation forward or that this is how a healthy conversation works, but it often ends up stopping it in its tracks. When they one-up another person, they are inherently taking away their chance to express themselves.

It's like they are telling you that you can't have your moment because others have experienced way worse.

7. They act like know-it-alls.

Conversational narcissists have a strong desire to appear superior. This invokes them to consistently try to come across as experts on a multitude of subjects.

They have a self-centered approach to communication, where the know-it-all seeks to establish themselves as the authority in every conversation. They may engage in excessive name-dropping, showcasing their intelligence, or constantly correcting others, all with the intent of reinforcing their self-perceived expertise.

8. They never let others get a word in.

If they are dominating the conversation and won't pause long enough for someone else to join in, this is a key trait of a conventional narcissist. With these people, it's always about them; they don't care what others have to say, so they don't even bother giving them the chance to say anything.

When someone ends up talking a lot and goes on and on without pausing so much as to breathe, they have a problem. It's like they prefer delivering a soliloquy instead of having a conversation.

9. They break conversational boundaries.

Conversational narcissists often ignore or even violate the boundaries of others when there is a discussion occurring. They pry into personal matters, ask intrusive questions, or make unsolicited comments without considering the comfort or privacy of others.

Their focus is on satisfying their own curiosity or asserting their dominance, rather than respecting the boundaries and needs of the people they are conversing with.

10. They are terrible listeners.

Conversational narcissists may appear disinterested or distracted when others are speaking, and may also exhibit non-verbal cues that indicate a lack of engagement, such as checking their phone, looking around the room, or having an impatient demeanor.

They are waiting for their turn to speak rather than genuinely absorbing and understanding what others are saying. They constantly disregard the importance of active listening and valuing others' perspectives.

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How to Deal with a Conversational Narcissist

1. Set boundaries.

Establish and communicate your boundaries regarding the behavior you find problematic. Calmly and assertively express your need for equal participation, active listening, and mutual respect.

Let the narcissist know that their dominating or self-centered behavior is not acceptable to you. Setting boundaries may not stop the conversational narcissist from trying to overpower the topic at hand, but it does give you a reason to stand up to them.

2. Redirect the conversation.

When the conversational narcissist attempts to steer the conversation solely towards themselves, redirect it back to a more balanced discussion. Politely interject and ask for input from others or introduce a new topic that involves different participants.

By actively involving others, you can dilute the narcissist's control and encourage a more inclusive dialogue. Think of this as if you're engaging in a conversational war and you need all the allies you can get.

3. Limit your engagement.

Recognize that you cannot change the behavior of a conversational narcissist. If the situation becomes constantly draining or toxic, think about limiting your engagement with the individual.

You can choose to avoid or minimize interactions with them, particularly in settings where their behavior is more prevalent or disruptive.

4. Practice assertive communication.

Use assertive communication techniques to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and confidently. Avoid becoming defensive or engaging in arguments.

Instead, state your perspective, redirect the conversation if necessary, and reinforce the importance of balanced participation and respectful dialogue.

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 — where you're interested in what the other person is saying, not just feigning interest until it's your turn to speak.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.