Opinion—Stop being a selfish communicator


Sam Rush/NW

Akasha Khalsa

You’ve probably had the misfortune of knowing someone or having someone in a class or being forced to sit next to someone at an event, who just won’t shut up. This person wants to talk about politics, their pseudointellectual theories, their obscure interests, their personal problems. Now, in some cases that might be all fine and good, but this person doesn’t care whether you’re listening or not. The point is just that you sit there and take it while they steamroll you, and time ticks by.

You look away, edge towards the door, roll your eyes, get on your phone and do everything in your power to let them know nonverbally that they need to stop. But that doesn’t work. If they even notice, they don’t care.

Maybe you try to get a word in edgewise, distract from the conversation, change the topic. You offer up a connection to your own life, share what you’ve been reading, try to form a relevant question. But you can’t even do that. You get interrupted, redirected back to the person’s desired topic, and if your own response is too long (more than one or two sentences) the monologuer tunes you out in turn.

Do you know this feeling? Turns out there’s a word psychologists have created to describe this phenomenon: conversational narcissism.

It should be noted that a person does not necessarily have to meet all the criteria for being a bona fide narcissist to be a little conversationally narcissistic.

Maybe you even fall into this category. I know that there’s a few topics that get me going in a way that’s hard to derail once I’ve begun. We could all stand to practice being better listeners. Here are some suggestions for assessing whether or not you might hog conversations and make those around you uncomfortable and bored.

If you notice you continually direct the conversation towards yourself or you monopolize a majority of the time within a conversation, it’s time to reconsider your social strategy. Just close your mouth and listen for a couple of minutes, focusing on your conversational partner’s words, without being distracted by thoughts of how you’ll one-up them or the best way to respond.

Pay attention to the signs that your conversational partner wants to leave. Their body might turn away from you (careful to distinguish this from social anxiety or autism). They might put more physical distance between you. Their contributions to the discussion may be limited to “mmhm” and “ah,” or they could simply get on their phone and tune you out. Check for glazed eyes or eyeing the exits. In Zoom, pay attention to how often you have to mute and unmute yourself and try to gauge what percentage of time you take up in that class or meeting compared to what percentage of the class or meeting’s population you account for.

Try asking open-ended questions of your conversation partner or partners. Follow up on details your partner brings up in their response. Don’t interrupt. Resist the temptation to bring the conversation back to yourself.

And what can you do when you’re sitting next to that person, that conversational narcissist, who has no interest in improving their listening skills or developing an equal exchange?

You don’t have to stay there, and you don’t have to stay silent. You can even tell them what you really think about their self-indulgent monologue: “I would like to discontinue this conversation. You are not talking for my benefit in any case; you’re talking for yourself.”

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is a staff column, written by an employee of the North Wind. As such, it expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the North Wind Editorial Board.