Dear Carolyn • Over the past couple of years I have come to realize I contribute too much to conversations, generally in a "one-upping" situation. This was recently confirmed by a friend. Besides just shutting up when I feel like speaking up, what are some other strategies I can use? I know my reputation as a one-upper will stay with me for quite some time.
Dear One Upper • You've got the right idea biting your tongue when you'd normally repeat your signature mistake is the first step in retraining yourself socially. Once you've got that down, though, it's important to come up with something to replace your faux-pas, since just sitting there inertly isn't ideal, either. The most effective changes are the ones that work with, versus against, your natural impulses. Given that your impulse is to make things about you, it might work to take what you're about to say about yourself, and instead frame it as a question about the other person. For example, if you're about to say, "I had that same thing happen to me, and it was totally surreal," you can say, "That sounds surreal how do you feel about it?" Sometimes you'll come up empty, which is OK, because you'll at least be thinking of the other person, which might help you contribute later in the conversation. And every time you do resist talking about yourself, you will chip away at your reputation for being self-centered both on the surface and at its source, because merely forming the questions will turn your attention off you. If that's not enough if you still feel the impulse to gain an advantage then it's time for a change of heart, versus a change of tactics. As always, the change has to start with the answer to this question: What is the void that you hope outside approval can fill? For what it's worth: Often people who "contribute too much" as you have are actually not needy, but instead socially awkward, and it comes out as "That reminds me of me"-type one-upsmanship and bluster. If that's the case with you, then orienting yourself toward asking questions will likely suffice.
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