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Did We Ask? Yes and No.

August 03, 2018 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

We know you’ve experienced the floodgates that open when someone you know and haven’t seen for a while shares everything that’s happened recently to them, even if you’ve read it on Facebook. It’s going on all around us.

You run into them accidentally. You feel so happy initially to connect. The first question that politely pops out of your mouth is: “How are you doing?” It’s great to hear the person’s news but wait. That’s when pleasure may turn to surprise and then possibly exasperation or even annoyance as you stand there—maybe in the middle of the produce aisle at the grocery store—as they prattle on and on about themselves, children and if they’ve been so lucky, grandchildren. You wait for the conversation to be reciprocal but with these types it often isn’t.

Watch carefully when this occurs, and you’ll note that these types barely come up for air. They drone on and on without stopping, even a pause, especially when they start humbly bragging about their grandchildren’s brilliance or athletic prowess.

Does this sound familiar? Well, the good-bad news is that there’s more. After all, we haven’t yet shared that if you do get to add a word or even a sentence about something related to you, they become that new buzzword of a “conversational narcissist.” They turn the conversation on them and proceed to tell you how the same thing happened to them, a family member or even a close friend. What a funny coincidence, they say, though we bet you’re not laughing yet.

When they’re finally done—and don’t expect it to be soon, you’ve become so exhausted, you have no energy or interest to share anything about you. Not to worry. Most likely they won’t think to ask.

This begs the question; do we encourage this behavior with our politeness asking how someone is doing? Should we restrain ourselves and just say a polite “Hi, great to see you” and move on? It’s tough to let go of asking: “How are you doing?”

And in most cases, the conversation will be short. “I’m fine and, how are you?” You respond, “I’m doing well,” and move on to the meat counter. But there are those people who just start to spew forth like the Kilauea volcano. They’ve been dying to tell someone, not yet found a willing party who will listen and voila! You’ve walked right into the morass. Is there a mechanism by which we can cut them off?

We’ve got ideas; in fact, plenty, since the increased narcissism that has become contagious—and even before someone we all know stepped into the oval office—has made the anti-narcissism brigade work overtime.

Master meditation. It comes in very useful at such times. Simply go to a peaceful place where you hear and see nothing. You just stand there with a blank stare or stupid smile on your face. Upshot? You won’t hear most of their conversation.

Smile and nod your head occasionally and utter a periodic OK. That way they think you’re listening, but you don’t have to at all. Practice, you’ll get it down pat.

Insert a question here and there. They’ll think you’re interested, even though your interest stopped long before the latest kudo from their daughter swimming the English Channel for her 10th time or their son being invited to the royal wedding and the 200-only evening party. But know that this might encourage them to talk more, either about the rough waves between here and England or the tequila that George Clooney was said to be pouring.  

Throw in a comment. When they tell you that if you don’t go to such-and-such doctor you’re crazy, cheap or sadly never likely to recover, politely ask, “Remind me where you did your medical training or now that you’re an MD can I get a family or friends’ discount?” That little bit of sarcasm may shake things up a bit. They may then realize you’re annoyed, though with some of the most all-about-me types they won’t get it. Instead, they will think you’re just in a bad mood or worse envious of everything that’s going so perfectly for them.

Add praise but beware. This is the drug they need. It also might intimate that you want to hear more. And watch; they lap it up like a (starved) kitten drinking milk. However, when they share about junior, who’s still in high school being put on the short list for the Nobel Prize in Technology for a device that silences anybody from using too many “me’s” in any 15-minute spiel, you know you’re not the only one this person has subjected to their self-promotion.

Interrupt. Redirect the conversation. During their oral diarrhea, say: “I really like your glasses. Where did you get them?” But when they ignore you, continue their monologue, and you can’t take it longer—you feel a migraine is creeping up, get ready to push the button for your parachute and make your exit strategy.

Hmmm, what could it be? How about that rare disease you picked up on your safari in Africa where you stayed in one of those glam tents? Don’t venture there since they will pick up the gauntlet and tell you that they did, too. Or how about the appointment you have with your producer for a film about the all-about-me generation? That may not do it either since they share they know so many who could be profiled. For once, however, they may not insert themselves. Lastly, if all else fails, just offer apologies. Say, "I have a very important appointment” --and get the hell out of there.




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