Let’s Stop Sabotaging Our Conversations with our Teens, Part 2: Are You A Conversational Narcissist?

In yesterday’s post I shared some of the insights I gleaned from Celeste Headlee’s book, We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter and her corresponding TED talk. Her insight and advice is dead on and has helped me be more intentional in conversations with my two teenage daughters. So I’m working on being curious, checking my bias, respecting the silence, staying the course, being present, and establishing office hours. If you have’t yet read it, I encourage you to check it out.

But there were two additional bits of wisdom that I learned from Headlee’s book that really hit home that I want to share with you. Today’s confession:

I am a Conversational Narcissist

Headlee explains that conversational narcissism is the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. Basically, we are wired to talk. About ourselves and what we know and what we’ve done and where we’ve been…you get the idea. It feels good. Perhaps you know someone like this?  It can be pretty obvious.

But conversational narcissism can also be a subtle thing, and if you’re raising teenagers, it is oh so important to understand it, recognize when you’re doing it, and STOP DOING IT.

For parents of teenagers, conversational narcissism can go something like this:

Daughter: “Those girls all sit together at lunch and I’ve got no one to sit with.”

Me: “When I was in high school…..”

AAARRRGGGHH!  I may think I’m making a connection with my teenager by talking about our shared experiences, but I’m really not. I have to remember that my high school experiences are decades old (I won’t say how many) and they’re my experiences, not my daughter’s. When I interject my own experiences, I’m forcing her to listen to me and acknowledge me. This is conversational narcissism. Relating her stories to my own experiences distorts my understanding of what she’s saying and what she’s going through.

It needs to be about her, not me.

What my daughter needs is for me to listen to her and acknowledge her thoughts, feelings, and experiences. She wants validation and empathy, not a history lesson.

Why is it so hard? Is it because I’m older and know better? (That advantage is quickly fading.)  Is it because I so desire conversation with my “I need my privacy” teenager that I feel the need to get all my words in whenever I get the chance? Is it just habit? Is it because I’m secretly nervous about whether or not I can handle whatever experiences she’s encountering and wants to share, and I don’t want to “blow” it?

Maybe it’s all of the above.

But knowing is powerful and I’m learning to listen more and talk less. Because, as Headlee points out,

It’s never wrong to choose not to talk about yourself.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll share the second bit of conversational wisdom that smacked me between the eyes. Stay tuned!