Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who just keeps relating the topic back to themself? Have you ever been this person?
Chances are, you have—we all have to some degree. We’re not selfish and vain, either. We’re just human. Sharing stories and relating to others is how we create connections and build relationships. The only issue is when we’re talking about ourselves so much that we lose sight of what the other person has to share and we leave the conversation without a meaningful takeaway.
We like talking about ourselves, research has proven it to be fact. However, we must learn to balance how much we talk about ourselves so that we can actively listen to others and learn their individual experiences.
On average, humans spend 30-40% of their speech talking about themselves, sharing their personal experiences with others. Harvard neuroscientists Diana l. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell conducted a series of studies to explore the effect that talking about ourselves has on the brain.
When participants disclosed information about themselves to others, increased activity in the mesolimbic dopamine system occurred. This area is the part of the brain that responds to pleasures and rewards, showing that talking about ourselves is quite enjoyable and sometimes addictive. In sum, talking about ourselves feels good, like a natural high.
A Balancing Act
While talking about ourselves and relating others’ thoughts and ideas back to our own experiences may help create relationships and is a rewarding feeling, constant discussion of the self can lead to negative outcomes.
For one, you may not be fully invested in what the other person is saying since you’re focused on your own disclosure, which takes away from your ability to actively listen and truly connect with the other person.
Secondly, if the other person notices you circling the conversation back to yourself at every opportunity, they may draw conclusions about you and your personality, such as being conceited, that aren’t an accurate depiction. Negative assumptions can be really damaging in any relationship, especially a manager-employee one if an employee feels their boss is self-interested.
While the assumption may be a logical jump, that doesn’t make it true in all cases. We now know that we like to talk about ourselves not because we’re self-obsessed, but because our brains feel rewarded.
So how do we find a balance between self-disclosure to connect with others and self-disclosure which could inhibit our relationships?
Learning to Listen
Talking about ourselves is fun, apparently, but that doesn’t mean we can’t control it. One way to combat our inclination to self-disclosure is by refocusing our energy into practicing our active listening skills.
When another person is sharing a story with you, recognize that it’s their story to tell. Instead of finding a personal story of your own that may be similar to theirs, invest in their story. Respect the fact that you’re trusted with the information and show your appreciation by paying attention and not shifting the focus. Allowing others to speak freely without interruption is an important way to make them feel accepted and valued.
When the conversation turns back on you, answer wholly but don’t hijack the conversation. Try to keep a conscious mind that the conversation isn’t about sharing, but rather, learning. Reciprocate any questions asked your way and take an interest in the other person.
Go one step further from reciprocating questions by asking probing questions throughout the whole encounter. Whether you need clarity or you’re curious, you’re showing that you’re present and engaged. The fact that we all like to talk about ourselves doesn’t have to be a negative thing—use it to your advantage. Let them talk. They’ll leave the conversation feeling satisfied and have a positive impression of you.
Don’t feel guilty every time you say “me,” “my,” or “I.” We all need to self-disclose to create relationships and build trust. However, recognizing when is a good time to share versus a good time to listen is an acquired skill for all people in all situations. For more information on how to sharpen your relationship management and social-emotional skills, take a look at Knowted’s different products.