Do You Ever Behave Like Narcissus?

Narcissus looking into the poolI was loading the bikes onto the car the other day when my neighbour said something to me over the fence about something her son had done. I won’t go into the details. They don’t matter.

I said that I had done something very similar when I was that age, but worse. This changed the course of the conversation towards me and not about what was on her mind. I spotted it straight away because I had just read a piece by Scott Adams (he of the Dilbert cartoons) pointing out that a lot of conversation is just one person waiting to say something about themselves or get their own viewpoint across. Not so much a conversation at all.

Back to the neighbour…I pushed the conversation back to her and she seemed quite happy about that. I wonder if she noticed. I bet she did. Narrow escape with a narcissist for her.

Then, just three days later I am talking to a friend and I do it again. I cannot believe it. I immediately say “but this is not about me” and allow him to get back to his thread. I get what I think is a wry smile, which is agonising.  

I am shocked that I have had these two slips and even more shocked when I realise that I may just be temporarily sensitive to this bad behaviour because I read the Scott Adams blog post. Maybe I do this all the time. Would anyone tell me? Most wouldn’t. They’d just slip away…

At its best, this behaviour is boring. At its worst it’s called narcissistic personality disorder.

We tend to have the need to listen better drilled into us. I try to do this. I ask questions and I find that by starting out trying to be interested in the person’s thing causes me to actually become interested. Funny that. There’s a lot of this around – the more obvious cause and effect and the strange phenomenon of the effect causing the cause… Smile and be happy seems to work as well as be happy and smile. Do it until you feel like it works better than wait until you feel like it before doing it.

But listen better I think extends to what you do after the listening – the talking. You haven’t really listened well if your talk is even slightly narcissistic.  

It’s OK to talk about yourself if you started the conversation. But if someone else started it then it’s about them and I shouldn’t make it about me until they have had the conversation they want to have. Then I can start on about whatever it is that I need to get out.

When I used to go networking I would assume interest in the other person until I became interested and I’d never make the conversation about me unless the person I was talking to specifically asked me about me. I’d say in around two thirds of cases they never did make it about me.

Which means at best they were in transactional selling mode and that won’t work with me. If they’d have asked me about me we might have got onto consultative selling mode and that does work with me (and almost everyone). So, their Narcissus met their Nemesis, as the story goes.   

I need to regain my networking skills. So that when people talk to me I am going to stay focused on them and not me, until they are finished. 

2 Responses to Do You Ever Behave Like Narcissus?

  1. Amanda Fairclough March 11, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    This is interesting from a pastoral care perspective, when I believe it’s sometimes called “active listening”. Or to put it differently, as one of the wise people who trained me for the ministry once said, “sometimes you just have to let people waste your time, because that’s what they need from you”. It can be very draining though, especially over a sustained period. I guess the antidote is to find a good listener who will (occasionally) let you waste their time…

    • Mark Nugent March 11, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

      You’re right, they just need you to listen.
      I have made myself paranoid now about talking about myself or my situation but it occurs to me that I can listen brilliantly to my kids (13 and 10). I have a rule to never finish the conversation with them – it finishes when they want it to, even if it’s 3pm on a work day and I’m screaming inside to get back to work. I should do this with grown ups as well…

Leave a Reply