When was the last time you felt really seen in a conversation with someone? It’s the best feeling. It’s like you belong there, with them. You have deep support that doesn’t have to be described, because it’s palpable.
The beauty of these gatherings – whether it’s on the phone with your best girlfriend, a family member or your partner – is that they leave you feeling better than you did when you started.
However, here’s what didn’t happen in a situation where you felt SO good about the conversation you just had, the relationship that you’ve built, and the person that you are.
You didn’t talk about yourself the whole time.
You didn’t listen to them talk about themselves the whole time.
You didn’t debate.
You didn’t project your life onto theirs, and neither did they.
Rather, you did this one thing. It’s the same thing that they did for you…
You listened. You asked a question. Then you asked a follow-up question. And you got those questions in return.
When we don’t do this…when we instead vie for attention…or try to “relate” by interjecting with a story or comment about ourselves…we become what sociologist Charles Derber has coined “conversational narcissism.”
He watched 1500 recorded conversations and how they unfold and recorded all the ways people are trading and leveraging for attention. He found that many people succumb to conversational narcissism, even with the best intentions, because instead of generously listening, we look for a place to interject our own experience.
In the name of “relating” I’ve done this. I’ve been a conversational narcissist. Whether it was to show my experience, to show my shared pain, to show my equal understanding, or just to show off…I’ve listened to someone in the name of trying to figure out what I should say. Instead of listening to someone in the name of trying to understand.
The only way to understand is to ask. Whether you’re asking questions of yourself. Whether you’re asking questions of them. Or a body greater than both of you. It doesn’t matter. The key to a great understanding and great conversation is a warm question.
Try being the best question asker you know. I bet your relationships will get deeper and your conversations better. People will learn from you and start asking you the questions you need to be understood and to be seen.
Great question asking is one of the key characteristics of the four friendships styles in Six-Figure Friendships: the INSIGHTS friend. Find out your unique friendship style by taking my free quiz (it’s SO fun!). In your results, you’ll get my best pro tips for how to use that unique friendship style to your advantage (and also what to keep an eye out for. Every strength casts its shadow).