8 Signs You’re a Conversational Narcissist
Get more balance in those "me, me, me" conversations.
What is a conversational narcissist?
Showing conversational narcissism doesn’t mean you have a personality disorder. (To learn more about that, watch out for these 12 signs you’re dealing with a narcissist.) The term was coined by sociologist Charles Derber and describes the tendency to turn a conversation back to yourself. A balanced dialogue should involve both sides, but conversational narcissists tend to keep the focus on themselves, so you’re getting attention but not giving any away, says licensed marriage and family therapist Kate Campbell, PhD, owner and director of Bayview Therapeutic Services. “It invalidates the other person and what they’re trying to share,” she says. The problem is, talking about ourselves is natural, so it’s hard to notice when you’re overdoing it.
You don’t ask many questions
Asking questions gives the other person a chance to elaborate more—so conversational narcissists won’t ask them, says Celeste Headlee, radio host and author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter. “If they do ask questions, they’re questions that lead back to themselves,” she says. “Things like ‘Do you know what I mean?’ ‘Did I tell you about this?’ ‘Did we see this movie?’” To be a better listener, ask follow-up questions to show interest in what the other person is saying. Don’t miss these other 9 things good listeners always do.
You use a lot of filler phrases
Even when listening to another person, a conversational narcissist will respond mostly with fillers like “hmm” or “interesting” instead of showing any true curiosity, says Headlee. “It’s passive conversational narcissism, which is withholding attention until the attention goes back to ourselves,” she says. Make sure you’re fully engaged in a conversation, even if you can’t personally relate—your relationship will be stronger for it. (Check out these other 17 signs you’re the toxic one in a relationship.)
You’ve been talking for ages
The amount of time you’ve been talking is a major red flag that you’re showing conversational narcissism. “It becomes more of a monologue vs. a dialogue,” says Dr. Campbell. “You need to have a back-and-forth flow.” Make a point of being more self-aware of how long you’ve been talking. If no one else can get a word in edgewise, it’s time for you to step aside for the next speaker.
The listeners’ eyes are glazing over
Because you care so much about what you’re talking about, sometimes it can be hard to realize that you’ve been dominating the conversation. The trick, then, is to notice subtle cues in the people you’re with. “Their body language might look uncomfortable, or they could be crossing their arms or not paying attention,” says Dr. Campbell. Some might even be scrolling through their phones to avoid engaging. At that point, try to bring one of them into the conversation by mentioning something he or she would want a say in. (Here’s how to tell if your Facebook habits are feeding narcissism.)
You wait until you’re done to ask questions
You’ve noticed you’ve been doing most of the talking in the conversation—great! That’s the first step to shutting down your own conversational narcissism. But it won’t mean much if you only say “enough about me!” at the end of your chat when everyone is getting ready to leave, you aren’t giving the other person much chance to talk. “It’s a nod to politeness … when really it’s just surface and not an honest invitation,” says Headlee. Give the others a chance to get a word in early on so you can have a balanced two-way conversation. (Here are 13 more signs you’re a bad listener.)
You try to one-up everyone
One phrase Headlee says you shouldn’t let out of your mouth when someone else is dealing with a tragedy: “I know how you feel.” You might think you’re showing support, but that phrase is actually turning the conversation away from the other person’s pain and over to your own. “It shuts down that conversation,” says Headlee. “You’re saying ‘you don’t need to tell me anymore—I know how you feel.’” What that person really needs is a listening ear, she says, so encourage your friend to tell you more. No need to pretend you can’t relate, but after you share a story, bring the focus back to the other person. Try something like “I lost a parent last year too and can’t imagine what you’re going through. Is there any way I can help?” (Here are 10 more signs you have incredible empathy.)
You’re constantly thinking of your next line
In contrast to a conversational narcissist, a good listener “would be listening to understand vs. listening to respond or share a story,” says Dr. Campbell. Instead of wracking your brain for a similar story you can add to the conversation, put the focus on the speaker. Once there’s a pause, show you genuinely want to understand by confirming what you’ve heard and allowing the person to elaborate, or ask for extra details. Check out these other ways couples can be better listeners.
You’re feeling awkward
Some people try to ask questions to divert focus away from themselves when they’re feeling shy, says Headlee. On the other hand, others might default to conversational narcissism, says Dr. Campbell. “Especially if they’re nervous or uncomfortable socially, they go back to what they know—and that’s their own personal experiences,” she says. Try these science-backed tips for boosting self-confidence to get over your nerves.