It recently occurred to me that some people are tone-deaf when it comes to having a conversation. They are too busy talking to hear what others are saying to them. They are probably lovely people, but their narcissistic tendencies have tricked them into thinking that conversations are all about them. I must admit that I am a recovering narcissist that still falls back into self-serving ways from time to time. It is excellent when I can catch myself in the act, but unfortunately, it is most often in reflection that I am horrified that I made the conversation all about me. I am cautiously optimistic that someday I will be able to abolish this appalling habit, but for now, I do my best to reduce my constant pull to make it about me.

Are you that person? The person that is so wrapped up in their head and motives that they don’t hear a word that is spoken and fail to see the body language of the other party. They seem to have no ability for self-reflection or introspection. This is especially apparent during group conversations. This person frequently interrupts and attempts to steer the conversation back to them. It is painful to watch because the person genuinely has no idea they are doing it. Group dynamics are challenging for narcissists, and they often find themselves on the outside looking in because people stop inviting them to hang out. The others stop calling the person because, let’s face it, who wants to hang with a narcissist.

Can you be honest with yourself? Answer these questions:

Regardless of the subject, do I interject my thoughts? If you don’t know the issue, the best plan is to keep your mouth shut and listen.

Do I frequently interrupt others or talk over them? It is polite to listen when another person is speaking. This is a tough one for many people but nearly impossible for a social narcissist.

Do I often dominate conversations and control the narrative?

Am I always selling my ideas or attempting to convince others that my way of thinking is right?

Do I often oppose the views of others? Social narcissists don’t want to lose their status as the alpha leader in the relationship or group, so they will attempt to undermine the ideas of others.

Do I go negative frequently or speak ill of others?

Have you ever had a one-on-one conversation with someone, and it was a delightful dialogue? These conversations are similar to a tennis match where each person has a turn. Now and again, the ball gets stuck in the net on one person’s side of the court, but the ball is quickly served to the other person, and play begins again. Let’s explore a few of the dynamics of a great conversation:

Lots of Questions – Questions are talk triggers. Learning to follow up on a person’s comment with a question will enhance your conversations.

Engaging – Both parties are interested in what the other person has to say.

Mutually Beneficial – Each person will be better off when the conversation is over.

Sharing of stories, lessons, and experiences.

Active Listening – Both people are listening to hear and understand.

Empathy is on full display.

Emotional Intelligence is allowing each person to empathize.

No agenda.

After writing this article, I realize that I have work to do! The reality is that we all have work to do because there is always another level. The key is to acknowledge reality and then identify the next level of growth in communication. Here are some thoughts on how to have more meaningful dialogue with others:

Stay Present

When you are talking to someone, put your phone down and listen to them. Hear and feel what they are saying. Are they seeking empathy? Are they seeking validation? Do they have an agenda? Are they seeking advice? Is this just a conversation among friends? The goal is not to judge but to understand the motives of the other person.

Actively Listen

This method of listening has received some criticism in recent years but is still an effective way to let the other person know that you heard them. After the other person has spoken, you will paraphrase what they are saying to confirm your understanding. Often, we respond to what another person has said without truly understanding what was said. This method of confirmation could help the other person to clarify their message if you did not fully understand.

Keep Your Opinions to Yourself

Unless asked or provoked, it is often best in nearly every social setting to keep your opinions to yourself. Holding back will be difficult for some people because they will feel that not projecting their view somehow diminishes their standing. Better to say, “yes, I hear what you are saying.” I have found minimal benefit in projecting opinions onto others.

Avoid Negative or Derogatory Responses

Great conversation is like improv. Improv was made famous by the show Whose Line is it Anyway. One of the main rules of improv is that you always say “yes.” The back and forth continues with “yes,” but nearly always ends abruptly with a “no.” Conversations are the same way. When we go negative or object to something, someone has said, it creates conflict and will typically end the conversation. Maintaining a positive tone doesn’t mean agreeing with everything a person has said, but is more about letting them know you heard what they said.

Ask Follow-up Questions

Asking questions as a follow-up to statements a person has made allows the person to clarify their thinking and help your understanding of the point they are attempting to make (assuming there is one). People want to be understood first and foremost, so our goal should be to first understand before trying to respond to what they have said.

Watch Your Body Language

The general understanding is that 55% of communication is your body language. Are you smiling, frowning, shaking your head, crossing your arms, etc.? Try to be mindful of your posture and remember that mimicking the person you are communicating with is a way of demonstrating empathy. Your face says it all!

There are many other considerations for improving our ability to communicate more effectively. Be a student of excellent communication. The greatest gift we can often give is the gift of understanding through listening. We all desire to be heard, so let’s shut up and listen up!

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