It's Not Automatically Rude To Talk About Yourself
You've probably heard the idea that "It's rude to talk about yourself". Most people take that to mean "It's rude to talk about yourself excessively, and barely or never ask anything about whomever you're speaking with." They realize in a good conversation there'll be a mix of each person asking about the other and sharing things about themselves.
Some people learn it's rude to talk about themselves and take the suggestion too literally. They don't reveal enough about themselves, and it hurts their interactions. Sometimes they can't think of what to say next, because no more questions come to mind, and giving any personal information isn't an option. They may meet someone at a party, and put them off by going into Twenty Questions / Interviewer Mode. They get into lopsided, unsatisfying "friendships" with self-absorbed or needy types, because they give the impression that they're content to do nothing but listen.
Here are a few reasons why someone might go too far with the concept that it's rude to talk about yourself:
- A common piece of conversation advice is to be more of a listener, take an interest in other people, and that "You'll make way more friends being interested in others than trying to get them interested in you." Someone could misinterpret that to mean they should never talk about themselves. This suggestion is also often given with a little blurb saying the reason it works so well is that most people are self-involved and love to go on about themselves. Someone may read that as "It's a faux pas to talk about yourself... but most other people do it anyway, so you may as well take advantage of that tendency to make your interactions go better."
- They learned about conversation mistakes such as "Don't turn everything back to what you want to talk about" or "Don't one-up people", and took it to mean, "Don't talk about yourself at all. If you try to, you're probably screwing up in one way or another."
- They were repeatedly taught it was rude to talk about themselves growing up. Not only that, but whenever they did talk about themselves, even in a reasonable way, their parents or relatives chastised or guilt tripped them for it.
- They were raised by self-centered parents who made every conversation about them, and they vowed never to do the same thing.
Some people are more likely to embrace the idea that they shouldn't talk about themselves:
- People pleasers - The idea that they shouldn't speak about themselves fits their style of putting others' needs before theirs.
- People who think they're boring - They don't believe they have anything interesting to reveal about themselves, so they're all too happy to follow a rule giving them permission to clam up.
- People who fear judgment and rejection - They worry they'll be criticized or ridiculed if they share the "wrong" thing. Again, they're eager to go along with a guideline that takes the attention off them.
- People who are overly guarded and secretive - Of course they'll like having another justfication for keeping everything close to their chest.
To clarify, it is poor form to talk about yourself in the following ways:
- Always or almost always talking about yourself, and not showing any interest in anyone else
- Relating everything other people say back to you, especially when the focus should clearly stay on the other person (e.g., they tell you they're grieving because a relative died)
- Talking about an aspect of yourself, and going on way too long about it (e.g., giving a ten-minute monologue on how you switched careers in your mid-thirties)
- Telling stories about yourself that are much longer than they need to be, and not allowing any chances for anyone to cut in
- Straight up bragging about yourself
However, talking about yourself in these ways is normal and acceptable:
- Your conversation partner shares something about themselves. You ask them a question or two about it, then tell them something relevant about you (e.g., they say they just got home from a vacation to El Salvador. You ask how the trip was, then tell them you're thinking of going to Mexico over the holidays).
- You bring up something about yourself you think the other person will find interesting or entertaining (e.g., you know they like movies, so you tell them about some upcoming films you're looking forward to).
- You have some good news you're excited to share, and tell them about it in a non-bragging way.
- They say something that reminds you of a funny situation you were in. You share the anecdote, but keep it fairly concise.
- You talk about a life experience you went through, but don't go on too long. You leave space for your friend to ask follow up questions, and share some of their own thoughts. You have a back and forth about the subject, rather than you talking at them.
If someone is interested in you, they want to learn what makes you tick. They want to find out what kind of person you are. For regular, non-narcissistic people, it actually feels uncomfortable and unbalanced to share a bunch about themselves, while their conversation partner remains an inscrutable blank slate. If you're paranoid about what might happen if you talk about yourself too much, realize that if you only do it every now and then, and apologize if you catch yourself in the act, no one is going to be too bothered by it. Self-absorbed conversation monopolizers have to keep it up for a bit longer before they wear everyone down.