Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors exhibited by participants in a conversation who want to focus the exchange onto themselves. [Derber 1983] [Vangelisti 1990] [Derber 2000] Conversational narcissists do this without showing significant interest in topics related to other participants.
Conversational narcissism can appear in any conversation, but it's of special interest to organizations. For the context of organizational interactions, conversational narcissism can elevate the risk of discussions producing invalid or suboptimal results, because the pattern can cause the conversation to focus on an individual and his or her needs in place of organizational interests.
In this post and posts to come, I describe the pattern and the behaviors people exhibit when they exploit conversations and participants for objectives that differ from the then-current focus.
Four themes of conversational narcissism
As Vangelisti, Knapp, and Daly have shown, we can describe narcissism itself, and the behaviors that comprise conversational narcissism, in terms of four themes — self-importance, exploitation, exhibitionism, and impersonal relationships. [Vangelisti 1990] In this post and the next, I explore the variety of narcissistic behaviors that indicate conversational narcissism is afoot, and which are associated with self-importance. In posts to come I'll address the behaviors that can be categorized as associated with, respectively, exploitation, exhibitionism, and impersonal relationships.
The patterns of conversational narcissism that are associated with a sense of self-importance
Note 1 In what follows, I use the term abuser to refer to the person exhibiting the narcissistic behavior. I'm compelled to use this term instead of a more oobvious choice, narcissist, because the conversation participant who's exhibiting a narcissistic behavior might not be a narcissist.
Note 2 In what follows, I describe someone as "having the talking stick" if he or she is the person who is acknowledged as the current speaker by the conversation participants.
With respect We can describe narcissism and the
behaviors that comprise conversational
narcissism, in terms of four themes:
self-importance, exploitation, exhibitionism,
and impersonal relationshipsto a given conversational context, and possibly with respect to a broader context, abusers harbor a self-image they find unsatisfactory. To address their discomfort, they construct a false but grandiose image that they must validate by observing its effects on the other conversation participants. This exaggerated sense of self-importance leads them to employ tactics described in this post and the next.
- Narcissistic questioning
- Most people ask questions because they're seeking information or clarification. Narcissistic questioning is different. The abuser asks questions not to gain information, nor to elicit clarification, but to demonstrate superior knowledge about the topic of the question. Ideally, in the abuser's mind, the person questioned will be unable to respond, or might even request elucidation before framing a response.
- Backdoor bragging
- To indulge in backdoor bragging is to articulate a statement or question that contains, in a subordinate form, information intended to burnish the abuser's image, or otherwise indicate the importance or elevated stature of the abuser. Example: "It's painful for me to attend her meetings, because my own are so much more orderly and effective."
- When the abuser acquires the talking stick, you had best settle in for the long haul. Abusers know that the time allocated to any given conversation is finite, and when the abuser isn't speaking, someone else will be speaking. So, when making contributions, abusers employing the filibuster tactic aim to consume as much conversation time as possible by including irrelevant detail, or by speaking slowly, or by any other means that comes to mind.
- Dismissing others' contributions
- By disparaging the contributions of other participants, abusers elevate their own contributions by comparison. If successful, the conversation participants will necessarily spend less time focused on the disparaged contributions, which makes more time available for considering the contributions of the abusers.
- Creating pseudofacts from thin air
- By repeatedly presenting opinions — or actual lies — as undisputed facts, the abuser can convert baseless assertions into facts in the minds of some of the other participants. Call these assertions pseudofacts. This strategy is most useful if the pseudofacts support the abuser's claims that contributions of others are unworthy of serious consideration.
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
- In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met —
and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need
- What, Why, and How
- When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before
the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
- Agenda Despots: II
- Some meeting chairs crave complete or near-complete control of their meeting agendas. In this Part II
of our exploration of their techniques, we emphasize methods for managing unwanted topic contributions
- How to Waste Time in Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause:
us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
- On Schedule Conflicts
- Schedule conflicts happen from time to time, even when the organization is healthy and all is well.
But when schedule conflicts are common, they might indicate that the organization is trying to do too
much with too few people.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
- Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info