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Volume 23, Issue 41;   October 11, 2023: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II

Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II


Self-importance is one of four major themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are eight examples that emphasize self-importance.
Men in conversation at an event

Men in conversation at an event. Can you tell who's speaking and who's listening? Image by Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, courtesy Pexels.com.

This exploration of conversational narcissism began last time with some definitions and examples. Briefly, conversational narcissism is the set of behaviors a conversation participant uses to direct the focus of a conversation from the topic at hand onto that participant or along directions favored by that participant. Conversational narcissism is a threat to organizational wellbeing because it distorts the outcomes of discussions — biasing them in ways preferred by individuals whose personal agendas might not align with organizational interests.

The methods used can be categorized as emphasizing some combination of self-importance, exploitation of others, exhibitionism, and impersonal relationships. This post continues an exploration of the narcissistic behaviors that are most closely associated with the abuser's sense of self-importance.

As explained last time, I use the term abuser as a shorthand for narcissistic conversation participant, because the term narcissist won't do — not all abusers are narcissists. And I described five ploys abusers use and which are associated with a sense of self-importance of the abuser.

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.

More patterns of conversational narcissism that are associated with a sense of self-importance

To enhance their sense of self-importance, abusers can try compelling requests for enlightenment, playing advisor, playing teacher, infringing "internal copyright", disparaging others and their work, controlling the conversation focus, boasting, and complaining.

Descriptions of these patterns follow.

Compelling requests for enlightenment
Here are some techniques abusers can use for compelling auditors to ask for enlightenment:
  • Use vocabulary, especially terms of art, that might be unfamiliar to auditors
  • Use words rarely heard in conversation (examples: sedulous, propinquity, blandishment)
  • Use acronyms or initialisms unfamiliar to auditors
  • Use foreign words or phrases when a native construct would suffice (examples for English: ab initio, a posteriori, ipso facto, nom de plume, prima facie, schadenfreude)
Using arcane terms, or terms used only by those of elevated stature, communicates to auditors that the abuser is also of elevated stature, and — what's more important — the auditors are not.
Playing advisor
By providing By providing advice not requested, conversation
participants place themselves in a one-up
position, well above their auditors
advice not requested, abusers place themselves in the one-up position, and their auditors in the one-down position. This consolidates the abusers' views of their own self-importance. Condescension is a common adjunct to this stance.
Playing teacher
A special case of playing advisor is playing teacher. In this pattern, the abuser corrects the usage, pronunciation, or grammar of the target. In an advanced form of the tactic, the abuser announces (possibly before witnesses) that he or she will be offering these corrections, "…because I know you won't mind learning something new today."
Infringing "internal copyright"
There is no "internal copyright" for contributions to workplace projects, but we do generally know the identities of contributors to important pieces of work. Abusers tend to believe that few co-workers produce any important work free of contributions by the abuser. Abusers are relentless advocates of this view, which they propagate by claiming sole credit for achievements of others.
Disparaging others and their work
Abusers do prepare for situations in which they cannot claim credit for all important work. When that happens, they disparage both the work in question and its author(s). Following their familiar pattern, they use any tools available to accomplish the disparagement, including raising objections, sowing doubts, questioning the motives of others, and misrepresenting the views of others (often unnamed). They usually offer these assertions without evidence, which they regard as unnecessary.
Controlling the conversation focus
When someone makes a contribution to the conversation, abusers employing this tactic jump in and make another contribution unrelated to what preceded it. This is a maneuver I call plopping. [Brenner 2003.1] Ideally, from the perspective of the abuser, the abuser's contribution brings the focus of conversation back to the abuser. The intent is to shift the conversation focus from the previous contribution onto the abuser's contribution. But when someone else treats the abuser's contribution that same way, i.e., when someone plops it, the abuser shifts the focus back to the abuser's contribution, a maneuver I call unplopping. Abusers sometimes repeatedly unplop the same contribution, if necessary, until all other participants surrender.
To boast is to make exaggerated (and possibly unjustifiable or untrue) assertions about the superiority of one's accomplishments. Abusers use this tactic in conversation, of course. But they do so with multiple purposes. They want to shift focus to themselves, or disparage others or others' work, or consume conversation time, or any of the other tactics listed here.
Registering complaints about situations unrelated to the conversation topic is one way to shift focus from the current topic. But complaining can also serve the other purposes described above. It directs attention to the abuser, it consumes conversation time, it can disparage the work of others, it can compel requests for explanations, and so on.

Last words

In the next post, I explore tactics abusers use that are associated with exploiting the other participants in the conversation. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Exploitation and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I  Next Issue

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Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Brenner 2003.1]
Richard Brenner. "Plopping," Point Lookout blog, October 22, 2003. Available here. Back

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What a videoconference looks like when all participants have their cameras offComing December 6: Off-Putting and Conversational Narcissism at Work: III
Having off-putting interactions is one of four themes of conversational narcissism. Here are seven behavioral patterns that relate to off-putting interactions and how abusers use them to control conversations. Available here and by RSS on December 6.
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