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Volume 23, Issue 42;   October 18, 2023: Exploitation and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I

Exploitation and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I


Exploitation of others is one of four themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are five examples that emphasize exploitation of others.
A horserace, which is a useful metaphor for the abuser's view of a conversation

A horserace, which is a useful metaphor for the abuser's view of a conversation. To the abuser, the conversation is a competition for dominance, and there can be only one winner. A tactic available to the abuser is analogous to a tactic often employed in racing. Specifically, the jockeys exploit other horses as barriers, so as to obstruct horses that they expect might overtake the horse they're riding. This concept underlies the phrase, "to jockey for position." Image by EvgeniT courtesy Pixabay.

This exploration of conversational narcissism began with "Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I," Point Lookout for October 4, 2023, 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 in 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 introduces the narcissistic behaviors that are most closely associated with exploiting other participants in the conversation.

A bit of terminology

In that In one pattern, the abuser can derail
the conversation by opening a new topic
with which only the abuser is familiar
earlier post I introduced the term abuser as a shorthand for narcissistic conversation participant, because the term narcissist won't do — not all abusers are narcissists. In general, it's the behavior that is narcissistic, not the person exhibiting the behavior (though some who exhibit the behavior are narcissists). And I described ploys abusers use and which are associated with a sense of self-importance of the abuser.

In what follows, as in the previous posts in this series, I describe someone as "having the talking stick" if he or she is the person whom the conversation participants acknowledge as the current speaker. (The term speaker won't do, because someone else might be speaking too.)

Guided by the work of Vangelisti, et al., I've collected ten different patterns abusers use and which are associated with exploiting other conversation participants. [Vangelisti 1990]

Patterns of conversational narcissism that are associated with exploitation of others

In this post I describe four patterns abusers use to exploit the other conversation participants. This first set of four includes patterns used to control who has the talking stick. They include indirectly directing, unfairly claiming sole agency, using statements that require the auditor to respond, and using masked enthymemes.

Descriptions follow. Next time I describe six more patterns associated with exploiting others.

Indirectly directing
Abusers can direct the focus of attention onto themselves using a variety of transparent ploys. For example, an abuser can derail the conversation by opening a new topic with which only the abuser is familiar. But subtler tactics are also available. An abuser can offer information (call it A) that connects to a topic of special interest to the abuser, but as yet unmentioned, (call it B). Typically, this is done in a manner that conceals the connection between A and B. When the conversation eventually turns to B, the A-B connection is likely to become clear, at which point the abuser can take control of the conversation.
Unfairly claiming sole agency
When discussing a topic with which many are familiar, or a project that involved several participants, the abuser can use "I" statements that should properly be "We" statements. To those unfamiliar with the topic, the abuser would seem to be the leader or resident expert, whether or not that impression is accurate.
Using statements that require the auditor to respond
Nofsinger [Nofsinger 1975] defines a "demand ticket" as an utterance such as "Guess what?" which requires the auditor to respond. Examples:
  • When do you think scientists predict global warming will be irreversible?
  • Guess how many X occurred last year?
  • I've heard that, too, but you know what?
Abusers can use demand tickets to establish and maintain a false power position in the conversation. They are effective because they place the abuser in a position analogous to the conductor of an orchestra.
Using masked enthymemes
An enthymeme is a form of logical argument. There are several types, but the type that lends itself to exploiting others is called a truncated syllogism. Example of an enthymeme: "Socrates is mortal because he's human." This enthymeme is the truncated form of a formal syllogism, specifically:
  • All humans are mortal.
  • Socrates is human.
  • Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
What has been truncated in the enthymeme is the first statement of the formal syllogism, namely, "All humans are mortal."
A masked enthymeme is a truncated enthymeme in which the truncated step of the syllogism is so obscure or so little known that the enthymeme appears to be logically incorrect. Abusers use masked enthymemes to compel auditors to ask for explanations. Wielded by a skilled abuser, the masked enthymeme is a tool of humiliation.

Last words

Exploiting other conversation participants is unpleasant for those exploited, but the pattern can also harm the organization in material ways. By exploiting others, the abuser gains power and control unrelated to the organizational value of the abuser's performance as a member of the organization. And that can lead the organization to commit to efforts unjustified by potential results. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Exploitation and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II  Next Issue

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Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Vangelisti 1990]
Anita L. Vangelisti, Mark L. Knapp, and John A. Daly. "Conversational narcissism." Communications Monographs 57:4 (1990), pp. 251-274. Available here. Retrieved 16 September 2023. Back
[Nofsinger 1975]
Robert E. Nofsinger, Jr. "The demand ticket: A conversational device for getting the floor," Communications Monographs, 42:1, pp. 1-9. Back

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