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Oppositional Conversational Style is Wrong!…Unless You Agree.

July 5, 2012


From Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project

A few days ago, I posted about a phenomenon I describe as oppositional conversational style” (OCS for short), and I’ve been flabbergasted by the heated response.

I thought I’d identified some obscure, rare pattern of human interaction, but it turns out that lots of people had already identified this kind of interaction.

A person with “oppositional conversational style” is a person who, in conversation, disagrees with and corrects whatever you say. Maybe in a friendly way, maybe in a belligerent way, but their remarks are framed in opposition to whatever you say.

I was fascinated to read people’s comments. I learned several things.

First, people recognize this pattern easily. OCS, it turns out, is a widespread phenomenon.

Second, people find it tiresome to be on the receiving end of OCS. To be repeatedly told “I’m right; you’re wrong,” in every context, gets annoying.

Third, at least some people who practice OCS recognize it in themselves, and they think there’s value to this kind of exchange. They engage with others in this way because they find it fun to argue, or they want to get facts exactly correct, or because they want to make clear that there’s another side to an argument (even if they don’t particularly believe in that side of the argument, they want to explore it).

Fourth, OCS is sometimes related to the Tigger vs. Eeyore distinction. OCS seems associated with Eeyoredom, though not everyone who exhibits OCS is an Eeyore.

I think it’s helpful to watch out for the “oppositional conversational style.” Sometimes, just being able to identify something that’s bugging you somehow lessens the annoyance. Instead of reacting to the exchange unthinkingly, you realize, “Oh, I’m in the presence of the oppositional conversational style! How very interesting!”

And for those who use the oppositional conversational style, it’s helpful to recognize your pattern of behavior–and to recognize its likely effects on others. You might not care if you’re annoying people, or maybe you do. Whether or not you agree that people should get annoyed, it seems that they aregetting annoyed.

Do you recognize oppositional style in someone you know–or in yourself? What’s your reaction to this way of communicating?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

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