People love to talk. We spend most of the day communicating with others, face-to-face, on the phone, through text messages and via email. That’s because we’re social animals: by communicating, we feel connected – and this has played a huge role in our ability to not just survive, but to flourish.
In most of what we all say, there is a reoccurring theme. Studies show that, hands down, our favourite topic is… ourselves.
Yep… humans love to talk about themselves. We all do it. And it turns out, there’s a reason. Why, in a world full of amazing things to discover and discuss, do people spend most of their time going on about themselves? Because… it feels good. And here’s why…
What the science tells us…
Neuroscientists at Harvard University conducted a series of studies with 195 subjects using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). What they found was fascinating. When subjects talked about themselves, their own opinions and personality traits, they saw increased activity in the meso-limbic dopamine system, and the areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward. These are the same areas of the brain that have been linked to pleasure and that light up when eating sweet and flavourful food, during sex, and even when taking cocaine.
Let the other person tell their story
Because talking about ourselves is borderline addictive, it will take some effort and self-control to throttle back. Here are a few tips to help you stop talking about yourself and let the other person have their turn instead.
Be conscious of whose story is being told
Listen for the story in a conversation. Whose story is it? If it’s theirs, don’t hijack the conversation by interrupting and taking over to tell your story.
Look for what you can learn, not what you can say
Listen to the other person, and learn about what they value, and what experiences they are wanting to share.
When you do talk about yourself, keep it brief
Because we know the other person is telling their story, keep your sharing brief. Ask questions to invite the other person to share. For example:
“I’m sure you’ve had experience in this area. What are your thoughts about it?”
“That’s interesting. What did you do about it?”
Ask probing questions
One of the best ways to listen is to ask questions. For example:
“Really? What happened next?”
“Wow, how did you work that out?”
Remember, if you’re asking questions, you’re not talking about yourself.
If you use the words I, Me, and My, you’re talking about yourself
When you use I, me and my you shift the focus of the conversation toward yourself. But when you use You and Your you keep the focus of the conversation on the other person. For example:
“What do you think?”
“How was your weekend?”
“Where are you going for summer holidays?”
It will take discipline on your part to keep the conversation focused on the other person. When you do, you’re making them feel valued and respected. And they’ll love you for it.
At the end of the day, everyone’s favourite topic is the same: we all love talking about ourselves. Next time you find yourself deep in conversation, let the other person do the talking (and make sure you do the listening). Chances are, if you let the other person talk a lot about themselves, they’ll think you’re fascinating…. and that you’re a great conversationalist.