I didn’t realize that I hate talking about myself until I met this one guy who I noticed do conversations in a style similar to my own.
He was more interested in others and asking questions than blabbing away about his own story. It was a funny experience because it felt as if our conversation got stuck as we both focused on the other person but for that to work, someone needs to be sharing more than the other.
It became even clearer to me when at one point my friends were joking that I asked lots of questions. As self-absorbed as it may sound, I realized that it is great to be able to share stories and talk about ourselves within reason as it can feel a bit weird to know someone for a while but not really know anything about them.
We humans tend to tell ourselves stories about other people whether they are true or not. I know that can sound stressful but I like to think that it is better that we share a simple narrative than people making it up themselves. Of course some people like the mystery.
Why we hate talking about ourselves
So why do some of us hate talking about ourselves when others can’t seem to stop? What makes the difference?
For whatever reason, some of us feel overly self-conscious, don’t want to be judged and when we talk about ourselves it is an opportunity for us to feel that other people are judging us even if they don’t.
It seems to come from a habit of expecting that people will judge us because we’ve often been presented with that in the past and thus come to expect it. Maybe it wasn’t even judging us but because someone close to us judged others behind their back and that makes us assume that they are judging us when we are not around.
Pair that with a lack of confidence and it’s easy to dislike talking about ourselves as it can feel like an opportunity to be judged. Maybe we don’t have a cool life that we are proud of compared to what we see on social media. That leads to the question: should we share stuff about ourselves and risk being judged or avoid it?
The interesting thing is that the entire process is something that happens in our own head rather than anywhere else, meaning that the people we think are judging us when we talk about ourselves might not even know that we feel that way. In fact, they might even be surprised as it can seem like an innocent question if one isn’t aware of the negative thought pattern.
Another reason is that we don’t want to be self-promotional. We are taught to be humble and the cultural difference is often huge for expats because we meet many different nationalities all the time.
While not all stereotypes are true, many are. For example, when it comes to talking about oneself, Americans have a reputation for being good at that. Some might even argue that Americans expect to get a part of their CV discounted a bit when looking for a job (with the assumption that they’ve overpromoted themselves) and so to balance it out, they might add a bit extra.
I know that cultural differences can be a topic for heated debate but I hope we can have some fun with this along the way.
Other reasons I’ve noticed as to why we hate talking about ourselves are
- We might simply be more interested in others
- We are shy and don’t want to be center of attention or come across as an attention whore
- Don’t want to burden people with our problems
Often it comes in certain situations like at an event or job interview and when people ask questions like
- Tell us about yourself
- How are you?
- Do you have any ideas about this?
Not only can it feel difficult to think up something good to say with people’s eyes on us but the key problem for many of us is we don’t know what to say.
What many people that we admire won’t tell us is that they practice in advance. They also experiment with different responses to different questions to see which responds works better than others or how they are being perceived differently.
It can come across as icky rather than effortless and cool so most people won’t admit to doing it. The reality is that whether we tell anyone else or not, it makes so much sense to do because there are certain questions that we get asked ALL THE TIME throughout life.
Imagine how many times we’ve been asked “what do you do?” at an event or “tell us about yourself” at a job interview – and imagine how many more times we will be asked those same questions over the next many years. To make the math simple, imagine that it is once a week on average over the next thirty years. That comes out to 1,560 times (30 years * 52 weeks). That’s a lot.
Now imagine that you didn’t need to think about that question, wondering what to answer but knew exactly what to say and how well it would be received BEFORE you even said it. Imagine how good that feels.
Think back to a specific situation where you afterwards felt glad that you said a particular thing, mentioned a specific point or thought about saying something and were glad that you didn’t. It could be in an important situation like being asked about our strengths in a job interview or even in a discussion about something with family.
Remember how good that made you feel and then imagine it would go well the next 1,560 times we’re asked. They say serendipity is important and imagine what a good impression in those situations can do for us if we automatically and effortlessly breeze through and leave a good first impression.
The hidden problems “I hate talking about myself” causes
I’ve found that it is particularly challenging meeting someone else who also hates talking about themselves and focuses on others. It’s easy to think that in that case everyone is accounted for in the conversation but it feels more like two people asking each other questions back and forth in an odd unbalanced way that lacks deeper substance and storytelling.
I’ve also noticed that it can come across as arrogant or stuck up because other people don’t see what we are thinking, just what comes out when we speak and so when we don’t want to talk much they may interpret it as arrogance. I know that can seem nuts on our side but we can’t control other people and change the way they think about it, only cater to the way they already do.
The hardest part about changing the situation is that it is challenging to imagine what it feels when we are awesome and don’t think about hating talking about ourselves. Both the concern but also the results we get when we’ve mastered it.
In fact, I bet many of us don’t even realize just how often it becomes a problem in daily life because we are used to the way it already is. It’s a habit. So we don’t even realize, how could it change?
Here are a few examples of common interactions where it has an impact and I bet there are many more I haven’t even thought of.
- Group intros
- Friends asking how it is going
- Meeting that new colleague
- Meeting friends of friends
- Speaking with family/friends that you haven’t seen in a long time
- Meeting new people online
- Job interviews
- Networking events
I’ve found that not talking much about ourselves can work well in the short term but in the long term it makes it harder to make close friends since they won’t get to know us well.
That can be seen if a friend is still asking basic surface questions after knowing them for a long time and feel as if they don’t know too much about us (of course there could be other reasons like if they are just not interested).
Whether we want to change it or not, the first important step is to be aware that we hate talking about ourselves. If we don’t care about changing it, we can focus on something else but if we want to, it’s impossible without being aware of when we think “I hate talking about myself”, in which situations and why.
Often it is because we’ve gotten into our heads that it is not a good thing but that can be changed. Let’s look at some ideas in the next section.
How we can change hating talking about ourselves without feeling judged
There are a number of tactics we can use to change it and I find that overall there are three “levels” of things that impact how we feel about it and how we can tweak it to our advantage.
The first level is simply awareness that we hate talking about ourselves, in which situations and why.
The second level is a short term tweak of what to say about ourselves such as what we share, the words we use, tonality, etc.
The third level is how we think about it and how to tweak that long term.
At the first stage, it’s as simple as writing down when you hate talking about yourself, what you were doing, who you were with and why you didn’t like it in that situation, every time you feel that way. After a few days or weeks you should have enough entries written down to see a pattern. Realizing this in real time requires practice and there is no way around it but it gets easier over time as we get better.
The second level requires some experimentation. The easiest way to change it is to change the language and watch the habits in our body and mind follow. To figure out what works best for us in different situations, it’s important to experiment and notice other people’s reaction. Often, we’ll quickly know if something works or not and we can either continue doing it or try something new.
Sure, we might feel judged once but compared to feeling judged every time we get asked that question for the rest of our lives and it seems like a no brainer. That’s exactly what comedians do with their jokes. Once we see them tell a hilarious joke, they know it’s going to land because they’ve already tested it on smaller audiences.
The trick is to do it in low stakes situations like when hanging out with friends instead of important situations like job interviews where we only want to pull out things we know works well. For example, we can even point it out and say “I hate talking about myself” and see how people react – often people like that we share “behind the scenes” thoughts such as sharing why we are asking a particular question or in this case, why we might not be sharing long winded stories about ourselves.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if we don’t talk about ourselves at all and only ask questions to the other person, it can feel like an investigation. So we need to sprinkle in stuff about ourselves to balance out the conversation. A little trick is to finish our point with a question to draw the conversation back to them.
We all know that practice makes perfect and the taboo thing about all of this is that it isn’t cool to practice this stuff. In fact, it comes across as pretty weird. It still helps a lot, so one way to get around that is to practice in the mirror by saying stuff out loud.
If you do it enough times, the brain will remember it like a broken record player and when you begin a particular sentence out in public, the brain will automatically finish it. That also happens with our existing way of speaking without us even noticing it. But it doesn’t work unless we hear ourselves say the word out loud.
Another option is to practice writing about ourselves online first whether publicly, in a private document or on a blog.
Finally, if you are going to a meetup and don’t know what to say about yourself there is one thing you can do. Prepare other topics to talk about in advance and make it a game. You might make it a personal game or make it a social game perhaps by saying: “let’s make a game of not talking about our jobs for the first 20 min”.
The third stage takes longer and is more challenging but a bigger win as well. Before you beat yourself up thinking that you should know this stuff when everyone else does, remember that no one is perfect and everyone struggles with stuff – or they haven’t even realized that it’s a challenge for them – at which point you might be better off in your situation.
The reality is that we are all telling ourselves stories and it can be about everything, our friends, politicians or even ourselves. The harsh reality is that not every story that we tell ourselves is true. It might have been before and changed over the years without us realizing it.
These stories can be both negative and positive, true and untrue, such as that we are being judged every time we share something about ourselves. For most of us, the assumption that we are being judged all the time is likely not true but we might be judged from time to time.
Recognizing these stories and assessing which are worth keeping and which are worth tweaking is the essence as it will totally change the way we feel about sharing stuff about ourselves. That doesn’t mean we should become overly self promotional but simply feel different about sharing some stuff in general.
For example if we’ve been around judgemental people growing up, we might have made the assumption that everyone is that way and thus we don’t want to be exposed to that by sharing stuff about ourselves.
And as we move abroad and meet new people, that might change as we are not around the same people any more but the story that everyone is judgemental might stick with us unless we change it.
To uncover these stories, we can ask ourselves “why” several times to dig deep and reflect. For example “why do I hate talking about myself?”
“Because I don’t like being judged and my life isn’t exciting and cool” – “why?” – “because everyone around me has always been judging other people and I don’t like that”. Why? And so on. I’ve found that after asking ourselves why five times or so we tend to get to the bottom of it.
- Not talking about ourselves has its benefit but sharing a bit here and there makes conversations much easier
- “I hate talking about myself” tends to be based on a story we tell ourselves that may or may not be true anymore
- There are three stages we can use to tweak our experience and make it easier to talk about ourselves