Yes, I read the books and I’ve seen the movies.  Moving right along…

I talk a lot.  Often about myself, but more often than not about my plans, what I want to achieve, or the next task I need to conquer.

To the outside world, I probably appear a bit narcissistic.  Making it all about me is not my intention, but it can certainly be the outcome from the experience of others.

The biggest mistake we humans make in conversation is that we become conversational narcissists.  We make it all about us.  Our intentions are good, but the impact can be quite different.

Are you a conversational narcissist?  See how many of these boxes you tick….

During a conversation, have you ever thought….

  • I know what they want/need…
  • My idea is better…

Or have you ever said…

  • Why don’t you just try…..
  • What I would do is….

Or do you…

  • Set and lead the agenda in meetings, or in conversations…
  • Assume that your colleagues have understood your instructions….(only to discover later that they didn’t)

Or even more importantly, have you been on the other end of a conversation or meeting where…

  • Nobody asked your opinion, or when they did, they didn’t dig deeper or understand your perspective
  • You left the conversation thinking “well, that was all about them!”

If you’ve ticked a few boxes then you have engaged in, or been the victim of, well-intentioned conversational narcissism.  Your drive to get things done, or to help others understand or achieve, overtakes the critical skill and process of supporting others to engage in quality thinking, to self-motivate and engage, to discover, learn and grow for themselves.

Leadership is about conversation, and we need to get it right.

You must begin to notice your conversational narcissism and deliberately move to a place of conversational humility – characterised by conversational curiosity! You don’t, and can’t know it all, so take some time to ask.

Here are 5 shades (sorry, not enough space for 50 – but the book is coming!) of conversational narcissism that you might find yourself falling into, and a few tips on what to do to change it.

Conversational GREY – the AVOIDER

It all feels too hard, so you just sit in the background, agree, say little and avoid rocking the boat. You are scared to evoke emotional responses that may make you feel bad or challenged  – defensiveness, anger, sympathy, embarrassment.  You may even ‘beat around the bush’ and avoid saying what you really want to say…sound familiar?

This is experienced by others as passive aggressive behaviour and they will experience much frustration.

Conversational RED – the REACTOR

You take everything personally and react to what has been said based on your past experience, your values and your future goals – none of which are known to others.  When the conversation doesn’t go your way, your response is to walk away, or begin to just ‘tell’ so you can move on…sound familiar?

This is experienced by others as an inability to listen and they will give up trying to engage with you.

Conversational BLUE – the RESCUER

You are good at what you do, so when others are struggling, you know you can get it done faster and better yourself, so you take it on.

This is experienced by some as distrust or by others as an opportunity to pass the buck. You will find yourself with too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Conversational GREEN – the HELPER

You are a great listener, and when others are experiencing difficulty, you want to ‘save them’. You have a million ideas that you bombard them with.  You feel great knowing that you have saved another soul…sound familiar?

This is experienced by others as confusion and overwhelm and they will feel even more helpless.

Conversational GOLD – the PLEASER

“I totally agree.” “Really, she did that?”  Relationship building is important to you, but your desire to connect deeply with others and be accepted into the ‘tribe’ can lead you to be a YESer.

This is experienced by others as weakness – or if they have narcissistic tendencies then you are simply feeding them! Nothing gained.

In all these shades you are making the conversation about you – be that protecting or defending yourself, or making assumptions about what others want from a conversation. Conversational narcissism shuts down thinking, fuels defensive responses, creates apathy and wastes time.

AND…you find yourself feeling like you are doing everyone else’s job for them, and you are frustrated by the lack of self-accountability and engagement in your team.  People cannot NOT be engaged when they are doing the thinking and the talking – so change up the balance in respect of those two things.

Start making conversations all about others….it has to be all about….THEM!

  • Be a conversational facilitator not a consultant – trust that others know what they want from a conversation and ask them.
  • Let others make the decisions about a conversation – What to focus on? What the outcomes need to be? How long to spend?
  • Let others do the thinking – What is your perspective? What would be the best outcomes for you? What other perspectives or stakeholders should we be considering?
  • Ask others if they want feedback from you, don’t just give it. And if the answer is yes, then ask what specific feedback they would like and how would they like to receive it.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t express your ideas or needs as well, but only AFTER others, and only if relevant to who has the responsibility for doing the thinking.

Essentially, a conversation needs to work for THEM if you are to get what YOU want – so ultimately, it comes back to being all about YOU anyway.  Give these ideas a go in your next conversation or meeting and see what happens…