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RAB Research Archive

Are You A Conversational Narcissist?



Ever get the feeling when you're in a conversation that it's all about the other person? They aren't really listening, but instead just waiting to talk. Frustrating.

In Kate Murphy's new book, You're Not Listening, she shares this compelling example:

“My dog got out last week, and it took three days to find him.” How would you reply if someone shared this bit of information? Consider two options: You could say, “Oh man, my dog Sparky is always running away, too,” or you could say, “Oh no, where did you finally find him?”

The first reply about Sparky is a classic example of what sociologist Charles Derber calls a shift response, which directs attention away from the speaker and toward the respondent. To us, mentioning Sparky may seem perfectly appropriate—after all, we’ve shared a similar experience, so why wouldn’t we bring it up right away? The issue, however, is that these shift responses are usually self-referential statements, attempts to shift the conversation away from the original speaker and toward ourselves. It’s not an intentionally selfish act, but it is symptomatic of conversational narcissism, the antithesis of good listening and connection-building.

But the second reply— “Oh no, where did you finally find him?”—is more of a support response, which encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain greater understanding. Support responses are usually not self-referential statements—or hastily offered advice—but open-ended, other-directed questions. Indeed, the best listeners are often the best questioners; you have to listen to ask an appropriate and relevant question, and then, as a consequence of posing the question, you are invested in listening to the answer.

That’s not to say you can never mention Sparky—just maybe not right away, and not until you’ve made the other person feel heard. The key is to monitor the balance of shift and support responses in your conversations, and to remember the distinct advantages of becoming a good questioner.

Even the term “support response” sounds so much better than “shift response.” And to the person you're listening to, it feels much better. Conversational narcissism limits understanding and prevents any sense of connection.

People who ask questions, end up collecting more information and stories, the way others might collect stamps, shells or coins. As a result, they tend to have something interesting to contribute to almost any discussion.

In sales, listening is how you identify opportunities.

Source: Jeff Schmidt, RAB





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