Strategies for Dealing with Conversational Narcissists: Expert Advice from Harvard-Trained Behavioral Scientist

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Learn valuable insights and effective techniques to navigate conversations with individuals who constantly redirect the discussion towards themselves and disregard your input. A Harvard-trained expert shares strategies to maintain balanced dialogue and set boundaries, facilitating more fulfilling interactions.

5 Things Narcissists Always Do When Talking to Others—And How to Respond, Says Harvard-Trained Expert

Introduction

Have you ever come across someone who consistently turns every conversation back to themselves, disregarding your viewpoints and experiences? You may have encountered a "conversational narcissist." This term, coined by sociologist Charles Derber, describes individuals who dominate conversations without considering others' perspectives. It can be emotionally draining to be on the receiving end of such interactions. As a Harvard-trained behavioral scientist, I have identified key traits of narcissistic conversationalists and developed effective strategies to respond to them.

1. They Don't Ask You Questions

A narcissist tends to monopolize conversations, showcasing little interest in your input. When you ask them a question, they delve into a monologue about their own life and fail to reciprocate the inquiry.

How to respond: Gently redirect the conversation towards a more balanced dialogue using "conversational threading." Incorporate keywords or topics they have mentioned into your response. For instance, say, "That sounds like an action-packed weekend. Mine was similar..." This approach facilitates a natural segue for you to re-engage in the conversation.

2. They're Oblivious to their Excessive Chattiness

Engaging with someone who passionately speaks without pausing to gauge your reactions can make you feel like a convenient audience member for their monologues.

How to respond: Assertively but politely steer the conversation towards a more mutual exchange. Utilize lines like, "I have a few thoughts on that, too," or, "I'd love to share some of my own experiences." If redirecting doesn't work, prepare an exit strategy, such as mentioning a pre-scheduled phone call or a meeting that requires your attention, politely ending the conversation.

3. They Always Bring it Back to Their Own Interests

Whenever the conversation shifts away from the narcissist, they swiftly redirect it back to themselves. For example, if you express excitement about an upcoming holiday to Spain, they will bring up their trip to Italy from three years ago.

How to respond: Use the "I need advice" technique, posing a direct question that prompts the person to stay on topic. Ask, "It sounds like you had a great time in Italy. Do you have any travel tips for me to keep in mind as I prepare for Spain?" Alternatively, adopt the "acknowledge and segue" approach: "That sounds great! What I was trying to share about my own situation is..."

4. They Constantly Talk Down to You

In conversations, narcissists might employ patronizing or condescending language that establishes their superiority in a room. While this behavior may be unintentional, it can still be disconcerting.

How to respond: Set clear boundaries and resist the urge to respond defensively. State, "I'm happy to continue this conversation as long as we keep it respectful." In a group setting, encourage someone else to participate by saying, "Jess has experience in this area too, right? What are your thoughts on it?"

5. They Repeatedly One-Up You

Whenever you share an accomplishment, narcissists often respond by belittling your achievement and boasting about their own more significant successes.

How to respond: Confronting every instance of one-upmanship can be exhausting. However, calling out the narcissist is often the most effective approach. Communicate, "I've noticed that our conversations always turn into competitions. I would prefer if we could share without trying to outdo each other." Remember, you are never obligated to continue with a conversation that feels unfulfilling.

In conclusion, identifying narcissistic conversational habits and implementing appropriate responses can help preserve mutual respect and create more fulfilling interactions.

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