Q: Tere’s a woman in our office who is totally self-absorbed. She’s quite a good worker, but only interested in talking about herself. People are beginning to distance themselves from her and I think she’ll soon become isolated. Any ideas for me?
A: If we are candid, most of us enjoy telling others of our experiences and accomplishment: in fact, dominating a conversation can be quite attractive! We realize, of course, that such an approach will reveal our narcissism and will ultimately turn off our listeners.
Social sensitivity is a sign of maturity and will often reveal how we are able to communicate effectively in a group setting. Children, in general, lack social sensitivity and can be expected to use every opportunity to garner maximum attention.
Adults who exhibit self-importance to the extent that virtually every conversation is about them may be revealing some deeper issues that are not readily apparent but nonetheless significant.
She could be lonely with a limited circle of friends outside of work. Her evening hours may be spent alone, perhaps in front of the TV or computer, and so she looks forward to chatting with co-workers at the office.
She may have low esteem and has received little or no nurturing from family members. Her desire to receive notice, therefore, is her attempt — though unsuccessful — to promote her value as a person to others.
If she is married, it is possible that her husband is absent for much of the time, so she literally has no one talk to except at the workplace. She is “making up for lost time,” by directing virtually all of the attention to herself.
Is she aware that she is “totally self-absorbed,” as you put it? My guess is she is under the illusion that her conversational style is quite engaging and that her stories are fascinating to co-workers.
Colleagues, no doubt, appear courteous and she has probably received the message that her domineering style of dialogue is acceptable. Unless she is alerted to their aversion, she will continue on the same course.
While it will almost certainly be painful for her, someone needs to speak with her informally – and sensitively – as soon as possible. If you are up for the challenge, pick a time when just the two of you can speak confidentially.
Identify your concern and don’t add to the pain by stating you are speaking for others. Recommend she become more aware of her conversational style and encourage her to listen more. A recent personal example may be helpful.
This employee needs to be treated with compassion – as she is probably hurting to some extent – but she also needs to correct her conduct for the good of the office. Your intervention will be appreciated by everyone but be careful not to undermine what little confidence she has.
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