expressive worship

The Lost Art of Conversation: conversational narcissism

We all have friends who constantly talk about themselves for hours on end. If by some miracle, we get a chance to interject a personal thought, it is met with a blank stare and the subject is quickly escorted back to something that relates to their life.

I call them “conversational narcissists.”

Conversational narcissism is a term used by sociologist Charles Derber in his book “The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life.”

Derber states, “The social support system in America is relatively weak, and this leads people to compete mightily for attention. In social situations, they tend to steer the conversation away from others and toward themselves. Conversational narcissism is the key manifestation of dominant attention-getting psychology. It generally occurs in informal conversations among friends, family and coworkers.”

Derber continues by saying, “Conversational narcissism often occurs subtly rather than overtly, because even the dim-witted among us know that it’s rude not to show interest in others, and prudent to avoid being judged an egotist.” – Wikipedia

Let me explain what a healthy conversation should sound like. First of all, when you are speaking, look at people in the eyes. Eye contact conveys confidence, sincerity, and it holds the attention of the listener.

Secondly, as you develop your story or thought, it’s important to edit the facts as you go. Few people have the capacity to endure intricate details. For example, try not to agonize over whether it was “10:30 or 10:35”. It really doesn’t matter… unless of course, you are a lawyer depicting the scene of a crime in a court of law.

In informal settings, when you have “held the floor” for more than 5 minutes, it’s time to volley the conversation back to the one(s) listening. If they are interested in more details, they will ask. Short stories are generally better than long ones.

If you are the listener, really listen to what is being said. Quiet your mind. Don’t already be thinking about what you’re going to say next or how it relates to you. When someone else is speaking, it is all about them. Give them the respect to finish a story or thought without interruption. Care enough about them to respond to their subject matter with a comment or question that let’s them know they are being heard.

It’s not important to express your opinion at that point, unless they ask you. If you will wait your turn, there will be ample time for your personal input. It is rude to interrupt and shows lack of respect for the one speaking. Proverbs 18:13 (NIV) “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame.”

It also reflects impatience and selfishness. Philippians 2:3 “
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Have compassion for those who take longer to put their thoughts into words. Don’t try to finish their sentences or blurt out the conclusion of a story just so you can get to the punch line.

In general conversation, your responses and comments should always be gracious and encouraging. My mom always used to say, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say it at all.” Sarcasm, criticism and belittling comments do nothing to deepen friendships.

Psalm 19:14
 “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord.”


(Watch for Part 4 of Leann’s article next week, “The Lost Art of Conversation: loving and caring”)

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  1. Jim Drew says:

    Hi Leann
    I have seen Carl a number of times at Kingdom Bound. I think we even met up once at a conference in NY where my band was playing as well. I have enjoyed your music since the early Integrity days.
    Real listening – I had to work hard at listening. The best compliment I got was from a guy in Nashville, He had a stroke and said I was the first person in years who was not finishing his sentences. That alone was worth the change. I wonder how many folks I hurt in the past when not listening well, I think this because of a friend of my wife and I, She monopolizes talks more than anyone I’ve met. Once I had to use the restroom so bad and I told her and she went on for another forty five minutes, My wife and I would love to help her cuz folks avoid her and I don’t like that either, but what do we say when this comes up? Such a tough deal and perhaps can only trust our Lord to make her aware of it, I just hate watching folks avoid her, and we feel it too at times.

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