Everyone has Experienced Conversational Narcissism
Remember the last discussion you had where you just couldn’t get a word in no matter how much you wanted to? It’s a frustrating thing to deal with someone who exhibits conversational narcissism, AKA a conversation hijacker, and for most people, the response is to stop trying and untangle themselves from the one-way conversation they’ve become stuck in. But this can be draining and ultimately leave you zapped of energy, frustrated and resistant to future growth with that person.
Can you think of someone who has the tendency to hijack almost every conversation? Of course, you can. It’s a common issue, but instead of seeing it as a problem, let’s look at the opportunities that live here. And, is it ever a good idea to take over the convo yourself? I believe there are certain circumstances when this is the best course of action. Let’s explore!
Identify Conversational Narcissism the Moment it Starts
Think of someone who always has to bogart the dialogue. No matter what the topic at hand, they find a way to make it about them and steer it in a direction that’s along the lines of their own interests. Say, for example, you’re discussing how to grow your own avocados, even in Ohio.
You’ve researched this and your very first attempts were promising at first, but alas you’ve yet to succeed. Your potential partner in this exchange could ask questions, ask for links to the articles you’ve read, or help you brainstorm indoor greenhouse setups and maybe some dance moves that might help your avocado seeds grow.
But, instead, she decides to tell you about the first time she ever ate an avocado. It was a dare, but she wanted to impress an attractive guy. She had to eat it with habanero sauce and mayo and digest the whole thing in less than one minute. Everyone watching cheered and the guy told her she was a badass. Hmm. Where to go from here?
Option One: Give them what she failed to give you
They might not be craving attention as much as they need compassion, so try giving them an interested audience. Ask if she almost gave up. Ask her how many people were watching? Ask how long it was before she was able to eat an avocado again? Did she and the guy get married? Later, practice a metta meditation to send them some much-needed love, patience and forgiveness.
Option Two: Call Them Out
You could say something along the lines of, “hey, I was trying to discuss the possibility of growing avocados in less than optimal climates. How does your story relate to that other than the fact an avocado was vaguely involved? You might get a pissed off response, but there’s also the possibility she’ll think about it the next time she decides conversation hijacking is her next best move.
Option Three: Hijack it Right Back
This could be considered conversation narcissism 101: hijack it back. When dealing with someone who always has to steer the discussion, sometimes it’s important to regain control. This is the one time it’s a good thing and a necessary one. People who need to control things are much more likely to participate in how a discussion operates.
They may also feel a lack of control in their lives that causes them to try to possess power wherever possible. Getting people to listen to you can feel very satisfying and validating. Depending on who this person is in your life is how you choose the option best for you. If it’s a friend, you call them out. If it’s a family member who you’ve either tried to talk to or who you feel will not remotely be receptive, tolerance and boundaries may be your best bet.
If it’s a student, employer, or employee, taking the reins back may be the most effective means through which to get a point across or information you need them to have to do their job or complete an assignment. Getting into a power dynamic struggle can drain one’s energy and fail to create the desired outcome we hope to achieve.
How to Take Action
Let’s take the avocado growing example above. Say this is a business idea you’ve heavily researched and you’re looking for an investor. If the potential investor is also guilty of conversation hijacking, it’s important they feel valued and listened to. But you still have to get them to listen long enough to provide them with enough information to give you what you want. So, in this case, you would acknowledge what they said, make a comment along the lines of, “Wow, it’s incredible you ever ate another avocado after that!” and pull them back into the conversation where it ends with them giving you money.
If it’s an acquaintance, and it ultimately doesn’t matter, your best bet would be to just let the conversation drop. If it’s a friend, find a lovely way to let them know they just stole the discussion right out from under you. Maybe a joke would provide a less confrontational feel and yield less of a defensive reaction. “People should call you Houdini, Dave because you just magically made the topic of conversation disappear.”
Murky water must be navigated with most people when it comes to this. At the end of the day, no one wants to force anyone to listen to them. So, choose option #2 sparingly and do your best to surround yourself mostly with those who understand a conversation is a give and take. But it’s nice to be armed with ammunition when you do cross the path of someone who has the propensity to take over.