Mildly "Selfish" Things That Are Okay To Do In Conversations
Some of us observe conversations and conclude that people often say and do things for self-serving, image boosting reasons. For example, they may watch as a co-worker shoehorns a mention of their vacation into a discussion, so they can display how adventurous they are. Or they might watch a friend make a bunch of unnecessary jokes, so they can soak up the attention and validation from being witty.
Someone may notice this tendency in people and just come away feeling a bit put off or alienated from everyone. Seeing people's selfish tendencies may also stymie their own ability to make conversation. They might censor themselves because they don't want to seem like they're just speaking to make themselves look good. Filtering out any blatant urges to brag is one thing, but they can go too far and put a lid on the normal, reasonable things they could say.
Some egotistical people do take it too far, but within reason it's okay to be a touch self-serving in your social interactions. I'll explain more below:
You can't always be sure what someone's motives are
Before I list some commonplace, allowable types of conversational selfishness, I'll first say that you don't always know what everyone's intentions are. Sometimes it's obvious when someone is boasting and trying to talk themselves up, but at other times they may be speaking from a more sincere place. Like that co-worker who's telling a story about their exciting vacation. They may not mean to seem like they're bragging at all. They may genuinely think their anecdote is interesting and that their colleagues would enjoy hearing it. Someone who's joking around may truly want to help their friends laugh and have a good time, not just stroke their ego over the clever lines they can come up with.
Sometimes people can be on the cynical side and think everyone has self-interested motives when they open their mouths, but that's not always the case. Similarly, if someone's a tad insecure they may feel threatened if other people indirectly draw attention to their strengths and accomplishments, and assume they must be doing it to make everyone else feel worse about themselves. However, they may not be thinking that way at all. If someone is insecure about their income they may believe a friend who's reporting on a new restaurant they tried over weekend is really bragging about how much money they have, when that's the furthest thing from their buddy's mind.
Here are some acceptable, ordinary ways people can be "selfish" in their conversations. There's no need to inhibit yourself if you want to do one of them:
It's okay to try to steer the discussion toward areas you're interested in and want to talk about
This happens all the time in social interactions. People bring up things they'd enjoy or benefit from discussing and hope everyone else wants to talk about them too. If they do, it's a win-win and they all have a good time. That could be a hobby or TV show they want to dive into, a recap of their day, or a problem they want some support for.
Trying to nudge the conversation to one of your interests isn't inherently selfish, though it can be if you try too hard to steer the discussion and ignore what everyone else wants:
- You try to keep discussing one of your interests, even though the others don't seem keen to talk about it, or they've already chatted about it for a bit, but would like to move on.
- You want to deliver long monologues about your interest, and not give other people a chance to chime in and have a back and forth exchange.
- You really push to change the topic to your interest, even though everyone is clearly still in the middle of talking about something else.
- Everyone has already spoken about a few of your interests, and now you want to switch to yet another one. You're not giving anyone else a chance to speak about something they're into.
It's okay to say things that indirectly highlight your strengths or accomplishments
Sometimes you can't properly tell a story or get an idea across without having to mention something you're good at or have achieved. For example, someone tells a funny story about how they outmaneuvered a manipulative colleague at work. Part of their account hints at how they succeeded because they have a better reputation at the office than their co-worker, but that's not the point of the anecdote. They weren't bringing it up to brag about how likable or respected they are.
Yeah, sometimes people will tell a story and it's obvious it's all a thinly disguised ploy to cram in a reference to how connected or attractive they are, or whatever. But just offhandedly bringing up something you're good at isn't automatically self-involved.
It's okay to humbly directly mention your strengths and accomplishments
You have to be more careful with this one, but it's not always self-aggrandizing to tell people about something you've done well. For example, you ran a half-marathon over the weekend and came in second in your age group. That's kind of a big deal. It's okay to want to share that excitement and feeling of achievement with your friends. It doesn't mean you're horribly self-absorbed. In our worries about not wanting to look like we're bragging we can forget that many people will be happy for us if they heard the news. They want to know about it and share in your sense of satisfaction.
It's about how you deliver it. If you tell people you did well in the race, and seem humble, a little surprised, and grateful that your hard work paid off, everyone will generally take it well. They'll be turned off if you seem arrogant, overly pleased with yourself, and like you knew the result was a foregone conclusion.
For this point and the previous one, try to be aware of any insecurities your audience has. They'll be more prone to see you as needlessly bragging if you mention something they're struggling with (e.g., you tell someone you went on three dates that week, when they have a hard time getting one at all).
It's okay to try to entertain people
There's that idea of the Guitar Guy at the party, who pulls out his acoustic and makes everything else come to a stop so he can put on a little show to try to make himself look good to all the women. Those guys certainly exist, but sometimes someone takes out their guitar because they can correctly tell that everyone is genuinely in the mood to sit back and listen to some music. At times a friend may crack jokes non-stop because they're conceited and can't stand not being the center of attention. At other times they're just naturally witty and it's no effort on their part to come up with something that will make their friends laugh.
It's all about your intentions, and how hard you try to force an interaction toward putting on a show. If you just want to help everyone have a good time, but are willing to drop the performance if no one seems interested, that's okay. It's also fine to perform for a bit, but then naturally stop and let someone else have the spotlight, rather than trying to stay in it forever.
I think this is another area where you can have pure intentions, but other people's envy or insecurities can cause them to see you as acting from a selfish, self-promoting place. They may be a bit peeved they're not as talented as you and want to knock you down a peg in their mind.
Overall, it's good to have some self-awareness and try not to seem totally self-serving. However, you don't want to go so far with it you clam up.
Even if you do act from a more purely selfish place in your conversations from time to time, it's not the end of the world. No one's perfect. We're all a bit self-focused or high on ourselves at times. As long as we don't make a habit of it it's no big deal. Plus, if it's something you do only rarely, people may give you the benefit of the doubt when they think about why you acted that way.