Some people start out just wanting to share quality information, and so others listen to them in order to learn and reap the benefit of the experience and knowledge.
Unfortunately, many of these same people become addicted to the attention paid to them, and they gradually become narcissistic. Their advice becomes less about situations that apply to the audience in general, and more about, well, them. Their conversations become a string of “I think X, I feel Y, and I do Z.”
I see this primarily in workplaces and online, but it’s rampant in social situations as well. Let’s say you’re at a party. If you’re a good listener, and you know how to ask relevant questions in order to show interest in other people, you will inevitably be stuck talking to someone who is more than happy to go on and on about herself. She may invite you to respond to a remark, only to instantly turn the conversation back to herself.
Effective communication is absolutely one of the most underrated and critical skills in business today. And you can’t be a good communicator unless you are constantly thinking about how what you are saying is perceived by others. Now, while some people won’t find self-absorbed colleagues all that annoying, others will be driven up the wall and may actually go out of their way to avoid working with them. Here are a few suggestions to keep from monopolizing conversations:
Every time someone asks you a question, ask one in return.
Then listen to the answer, and ask a follow up. For example: “Do you have kids too? How old are they?” If the person is giving you one-word answers, probe a bit to see if you can get them to open up.
When conversing one-on-one, don’t speak longer than a minute without a break.
Even if you’re relating a long story, stop and ask for feedback or encourage the other person to interject a thought.
Monitor your own contributions.
If you know you have the tendency to talk about yourself a lot, choose a conversation in which you pay careful attention to the number of times you spontaneously bring up your own experiences or opinions. Take notes immediately following the conversation so that you can be as accurate as possible.
If you write, don’t always default to your own experiences.
Remember that others don’t care what you did yesterday, they want to know what they should do tomorrow. If you want to include a case study or anecdote, select someone else’s story to prove your point. Similarly, make sure that the opinions you present are routinely backed up by facts.
Self-absorption can sneak up on a person, and the best way to fight it is awareness. By recognizing that you’re focused too much on yourself, you can actively take steps to make sure you’re protecting your work relationships.
Alexandra Levit is a Partner at PeopleResults and is passionate about helping people and organizations succeed in the evolving workplace. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @alevit.