Do you know those people who always seem to interrupt you when you are talking? Those people who always seem to find a way to make the conversation go about themselves? Or maybe you consider yourself to be just that kind of person? And if so, how does that make you feel? Personally, I get very uncomfortable around people using the word ‘I’ more than five times per minute. It makes me feel like I am attending a lecture instead of having a conversation. But do you know what bothers me even more? I am that kind of person.
Too much using of the word ‘I’ can be an indication of either of two things: (1) a lack of empathy or (2) a disproportionately large longing for validation. Let’s start with empathy. Any human being living in this world of ours has a need to socialize with its fellow species-members, whereby socializing consists of keeping an adequate balance between the giving and taking of thoughts. It is an endeavor that allows us to live together in the dense populations we have. However, whenever the balance between giving and taking gets distorted too much, we don’t consider ourselves to be engaged in a conversation anymore. By talking about ‘I’ too much, the conversation has stopped and the plea has begun. By talking about what ‘I’ believe too frequently, you implicitly take away the right of your conversation partner – or even his duty – to contribute to the conversation. And that is what we usually consider to be anti-social behavior.
The other reason for using the word ‘I’ too frequently is that you might have a disproportionately large need for receiving validation from your social environment. This need consists of a sense of ‘wanting to be listened to’ that is significantly larger than what people generally consider to be pleasant. The question is: why would someone do that? Why would someone keep talking about his own ideas while knowing that his interlocutor might not find this pleasant? Well, maybe it is because the person doesn’t understand yet or doesn’t understand why his behavior is considered to be anti-social. Maybe it is because he just started interacting with his species members and still needs to experience the nature of giving and taking which is present in a pleasant conversation. Or maybe the person knows all of the above but still doesn’t consider himself to be anti-social; maybe the person believes that we he says is right and that what the others say is wrong, and that this observation justifies him in talking about his ideas disproportionately much.
However, it often is very difficult to draw the line between what is a healthy contribution to a conversation and what is a narcissistic urge to express one’s ideas. The former is praiseworthy and can function therapeutically, constructively and even emphatically. Speaking is after all the best medium we have at our disposal for us human beings to make others aware of our beliefs. You could of course say that works of art and other human creations also have the capability to pass on their creator’s message. And although that might be true, social interaction in terms of the spoken word still seems to dominate each other medium in making your intentions clear to another human being. Face-to-face communication allows people to absorb the often subtle gestures, facial expressions and tonality that are required in order to truly understand the creator’s beliefs. And, as you might have experienced, passing on a well-intended written ironic statement is much more likely to be misinterpreted than the same message being spoken out loud. The subtleties present in human speech can make all the difference for interpreting a message in either the intended or unintended way.
But although it might be annoying, sometimes we just have to let the ‘I-talkers’ rush out and talk about themselves. Sometimes we just have to let them release the tension that is underlying the painfully unidirectional ‘conversation’ you appear to be engaged in. We might even learn something from it; that is at least what I hope your response will be after reading this self-centric plea of mine.
Therefore the right question to put all the above into perspective would be: what do you think?