Have you ever talked to someone who, every time you shared something, would twisted the interaction around to make it all about them?
You may have encountered a “conversational narcissist.”
The term, coined by sociologist Charles Derber, describes a person who often dominates the conversation, with little regard for the viewpoints of others.
Hogging a conversation could reflect inflated self-esteem or even deep-rooted insecurities, and it can be draining to be on the other end.
As a Harvard-trained behavioral scientist, here’s exactly how I spot — and respond to — a highly narcissistic person:
You ask someone a question and they happily dive into a monologue about all that’s happening in their life. When they’re finished, rather than reciprocating, they move on to a new topic.
How to respond: Gently steer the conversation back to a more balanced dialogue. Use a technique called “conversational threading” to pick up on keywords or topics that they mentioned and incorporate them into your response.
For example, “That sounds like an action-packed weekend. Mine was similar …” This creates a natural segue for you to re-enter the conversation.
You’re talking to someone who is so passionate about what they’re speaking about that they seldom pause to gauge your reactions. You end up feeling like a convenient audience member for their latest monologue.
How to respond: Use tactful lines like, “I have a few thoughts on that, too,” or, “I’d love to share some of my own experiences.” This is an assertive but polite way steer the conversation towards a more mutual exchange.
If that doesn’t work, prepare an exit strategy. It could be a pre-scheduled phone call or a meeting you need to get to that conveniently cuts the conversation short.
The moment the conversation veers away from them, they find a way to redirect it. You share your excitement about an upcoming holiday to Spain, for example, but without fail, they bring up the trip they took to Italy three years ago.
How to respond: You could use the “I need advice” technique, which involves asking a direct question and prompts the other person to stay on topic.
For example, “It sounds like you had a great time in Italy. Do you have any travel tips for me to keep in mind as I…