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The Psychology of Oppositional Conversational Style (OCS)

Back by popular demand is the assay I wrote about the “oppositional conversational style” (OCS). This post really seems to strike a chord with people.

Which surprised me at first, because when I identified OCS, I thought I was the only person who had ever noticed it.

Turns out that many people have noticed it! From both sides of the OCS-dominated conversation.

34 Comments to
The Psychology of Oppositional Conversational Style (OCS)

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  1. These types make me feel as if it is just easier not to say any thing.

  2. One of the most exasperating of all behaviours – often relating to some degree of inferiority and the need to compensate by such tactics. Ultimately we can only withdraw or adopt a formal/closed conversational style…or if we’re brave, confront the style to help they’re learning…nice post anyway!

  3. My dad does this. All the time. Even when it would come down to talking about what we learned at school over the dinner table as kids. And now when I am telling him something I learned about in relation to my field of study (in which he has never studied). As the responder above said, it makes you not want to talk to these people. I have a friend who does the same thing, where if you agree with her, she will take the opposite stance and imply you are wrong, even when she said the same thing less than a minute earlier. It seems pointless to talk to people who do this because even if they aren’t trying to, they make it seem like you can never be correct in what you are thinking/feeling and need to try and point that out to everyone else.

  4. We have the choice to remain talking with OCS people or no; codependents tend to put up with unpleasant conversational styles for two or more hours. I wonder why you stayed that long with someone who was the cause of your unpleasant feelings.

    There are people who like to scratch their privates during a conversation, for example, of course, males mostly. I leave immediately, because as colorful as they may be, insensitivity primes. Are we going to classify the styles of every citizen in the planet in an effort to learn…..? Moreover, individuals from cultures other than Americans (as myself) have different conversational attitudes. Americans can see that this woman has a turd on the tip of her nose, but they won’t mention it until she declares her unhappy situation. The OCS person may say, no, dear, it really is a fly on your nose. But go to Puerto Rico, for example, and you will see a crow gather around this lady, all pointing at her nose, laughing and carrying on. They will tell her, Susie, look, haven’t you noticed that you have a turd on your nose? And Susie will laugh and laugh while somebody offers her some cleaning supplies.

    In the US, yes, there are some who deviate from the politeness of agreeing with the friendly guest. I have a friend, Rochelle, who always has a comeback for my comments. However, Rochelle is an extremely intelligent and educated, literate, individual, who is in tune with everything going on around the world. When she argues that she is right, I listen. Maybe we should listen more to those who oppose us. It would be a little bit more humbling, for a change. An exercise in mindfulness, perhaps.

    • Many people accuse me of having Oppositional Conversational Style. They’re wrong.

  5. This sounds scaringly familiar! I am aware of often responding this way to people. They immediately go on the defensive, which surprises me, as I am not meaning to attack anyone. I just like to “portray the other side” of a subject. I am trying to learn to stop before I blurt things out and 1) decide if I REALLY need to give my opinion and 2), if I do, find a way to phrase it so that it does not sound like I am saying THEY are WRONG. I think I just like to think a lot…OUT LOUD! ha! And, by the way, did you really mean “assay”, or “essay”? “Assay” would work, as you are asking a question in order to determine something, but in more of a “connotational” way perhaps? See! I just did it again! lol! So, the next time this happens to you, try saying, “Hmmm…your perspective is very interesting. But did you fully understand what I was saying?” just to keep things clear perhaps?

  6. I have noticed that I used to do this because I was with a group of people who always agreed on everything. I did it to make them think of a different point of view. I don’t think I was being difficult or dominant. It did make the conversation more interesting and I never argued with them.

  7. You are selectively attentive to opposition. Talk about neutral subjects, or attend to feelings rather than thoughts. Ask him/her about themselves, then ask for more detail about an experience or event that interests you. Be a role model for the behavior you feel and think is worthy of imitation. That is, as someone famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

  8. I’ve experienced this with certain individuals,I think it can be because they want to say they are smarter then me and know more then I do,some people are egomainiacs with an inferiorority complex if they feel inferior,they need to say or do something to feel superior..Sometimes myself I may come across this way when I’m not disagreeing just giving another perspective

  9. So annoying, feels like a constant pissing contest.

    • Yes, it does. I have a co-worker who is like this!!!! I never knew there was a term for it, but she constantly does this in the office. My famous line about her is “no matter what, if you say black, she will say white, if you say day, she will say night, with her it’s always the opposite of what anyone else says to her or asks her. It really is quite annoying, uncomfortable and not pleasant so I avoid having to talk to her unless it involves business nowadays.

  10. I read this article,and I have a friend of many years who acts just like this! I have always just agreed with her, for the sake of our friendship. Or not said anything! But lately I decided to at least state my feelings or thoughts,and agree to disagree sometimes! And do things my way, even if she comments her way is better,etc. She interacts with everyone in this manner and they notice it also. Either way,if you speak up,or stay silent,its a line you walk, not easy either way!

  11. Yes, I have met so many people like this! I used to let them upset and bother me, until I realized they have a problem, and it wasn’t my fault. It feels like they are purposefully trying to hurt me for some reason. It’s very hard to understand why they are in constant opposition. I either have to avoid these people so they cannot upset me; say very little to them; or try and help them, depending on the degree of their problem and attitude. When I try, the best way to deal with them, is to confront them honestly in a caring attitude. I try to help them become aware of the fact that their comments make me feel as if they are not trying to see anything from my point of view, and I don’t feel supported or understood. I let them know that it causes me to feel like they do not care, when I’m already hurting and in need of support. I tell them what I need from them, when I discuss things that are important to me. Sometimes if the person cares, they will take into consideration what you say. If you ask them further questions about why they feel that way about a certain subject, digging deeper, you can expose hidden truths. You can tell them why you feel a certain way about the subject, and this can help you both understand each other better. Sometimes this can help them to become self-aware, and start to realize what they are doing, for whatever reason, and modify their behavior eventually, after enough revealing conversations. They begin to try and view your side, as well as be able to express their view, without it always sounding like they are siding against you constantly. You also have to learn to be kind, and patient with these people, and try not to get frustrated. Remember that they are having difficulty for some reason. You have to forget about how you feel personally assaulted by them, and focus on helping them instead. If you need help for yourself, go to someone else to talk with, instead of them. Eventually given enough time in trying to be nice to them, and help them become aware of what they are doing in a gentle way, they can change, if they are willing; but if they don’t want the help, then they are impossible to talk with. Just ignore them if they are unwilling to try to care and change. Sometimes they can’t see what they are doing, and they need our understanding of that, more than we need them. They are more lost for some reason, and need the light of truth to free them. Try and show love at all times, and think better of others than yourself. Helping them, may be what you needed in order to solve your own problems.

  12. I have found this trait in may people who are insecure, I also found that they often chip in and try and finish your sentence as the outcome of the conversation can end as they want regardless of what the other person wanted to say !

  13. I share a job with a person who does this. It is extremely annoying! It doesn’t matter what the subject is … I am wrong and she is right. She does it to everyone, so I know it’s not because I’m a dull witted moron. Some of the other employees ignore her completely and refuse to respond EVER! She has a heart of gold, and would help anyone – but, my God, she’s annoying to the point of wanting to smack her upside her head to shut her up.

    • Yes, this is exactly the way my co-worker is. She has a good heart and tries to do the right thing for the most part, but her opposition to almost everything and her “need” to be right and her stubborn attitude is mind boggling!!! Most of the time, her comments or answers are extremely negative as well. I’ve suggested or recommended things to her, upon HER request, such as a very good doctor I use, Google Chrome for the computer at work instead of Internet Explorer, certain stores that carry quality foods at low prices like Trader Joe’s, and she had something BAD to say about everything, so now I told her please don’t ask me for any more references or to suggest anything to you since you don’t like anything.

  14. My husband mentioned recently that his late mother used to do this with him all the time and had since he was a child. This was just one facet of her abrasive and abusive personality. I wonder if OCS is a symptom of a larger problem?

  15. Wow, does every behavior deserve its own acronym? People have been argumentative since language was invented. It is certainly more acceptable in some cultures than in others. Even in the U.S., I’ll bet that if you told this story in California (nodding sympathetically), you’d get a different reaction from telling this story in New York (don’t be so thin-skinned!) :)

    Here’s a lovely blog post on this very same site:

  16. This is a tough one for me because my husband does this all the time. He doesn’t realize he ends up being a total bore because of it. There is no way you can have an easy, give an take, spontaneous conversation with someone when they respond in the opposite to everything you say. It may be just a passing comment, nothing important, but he has to take the contrary viewpoint. It’s beyond annoying and has really negatively affected our relationship. The worst part is, he is not a bad guy in actions, just doesn’t communicate in a way that is any fun at all. He was so upset one day when he came home from work saying a co-worker called him a “know-it-all”. So the co-worker” was the jerk. I asked him if he realized he disagrees with and corrects everything I say. “You do that” he responded. OoooK. I seem to be able to have great give and take conversations with everyone else. Sad part is, it is a possibility I might appear to be becoming more oppositional toward him since each conversation I innocently initiate quickly has me on the defensive with him when he has an opposite retort to it. Our conversations are becoming shorter and shorter.

    • I can so identify with you, especially if you have to live with this person. It gets to the point where if I stand up for myself, he throws his hands in the air and raises his voice and says. O.K. You Win!. I didn’t know it was a contest. I get to the point where I just don’t say anything. I just let him talk. He obviously has aggression issues. I fear bringing it up because he will say it’s me, too.

    • I so relate to everything you’ve said. Isn’t it just exhausting to be wrong ALL the time?

      I find that I don’t say much. The less I say, the less I can be negated.

      The less I do, the less he can find flaw in and correct.

  17. I finally have an answer. I have gotten soooo sick of being wrong, told what to do and the list goes on. I really cannot thank you enough. No longer will I speak with this person because there is no need for me to have to “recover” from every conversation. Thank you so much.

    • I’m interested you use the word ‘recover’, because that’s exactly what I feel like after spending any length of time with someone like this. It’s an emotional battering akin to a physical one.

      It can be quite sad for the person with OCS; I know at least one who’s genuinely sad that she doesn’t have any friends, and can’t understand why.

  18. I am involved with an individual with an oppositional conversational style and hoping to negotiate some conversational boundaries so that I can enjoy this person’s company. In response to the many “corrective” and “informative” comments I receive, I initially debated, could on some level be found wrong, and began to find the whole thing tiresome. More and more, I simply fail to respond, don’t even venture a smile or a nod. Interestingly, I find this individual does not have much to say unless I offer up something to counter. It would be nice to hear from people who have worked through this dynamic and found a comfortable communication model when dealing with this sort of individual.

  19. I have an alcoholic relative who’s very keen on this… will launch into personal attacks on the grounds that ‘I’m only playing devil’s advocate’; with alcoholics creating conflict around them is a way of avoiding a very painful inner world.

    With other people, though, I wonder if it’s a paradoxical way of getting closer to someone if the other person starts to argue their case. A lot of intense discussion will follow, but the person with OCS won’t be facing the kind of emotional intimacy which would make them feel vulnerable. Sometimes they won’t even be arguing a point they agree with, so no threatening self-revelation there either.

    I just feel tired and bored when in conversation with these people, and let their comments float past on the breeze. Like “Yeah… whatever…”

  20. What you do is in throw in another or aspect to the “conversation” hear the response return to that topic after “conversing” with them if they’re actually discussing the topic they’ll be able to continue the second aspect if they’re arguing the for the the sake of it they won’t or you can usually shut them up with same vague attempt at lateral thinking. Can’t stand these people.

  21. My brother LOVES to oppose people, especially me. The funniest episode was Thursday during a “Care Conference” at our 88 year old father’s Assisted Living Center. After about 30 minutes of discussion about his recent Dementia function test, the observations of the Nurses and staff, I suggested that we get Dad a water bottle to take j with him wherever he goes.My brother, the OCT one said “Why would he need to drink more water?” My reply stopped his oppositional behavior. I said “Why would he NOT need to drink more water?” …Finally after years of enduring my brothers negative responses to me, he was silent. I notice that I get more oppositional responses than my two other sisters. I will make an effort to validate him more so that we build a relationship of mutual respect.

  22. My ex was like this, everything I had an opinion about he would oppose. I caught him out once, something I mentioned I wasn’t keen on, he said he liked, fast forward a few weeks, I mentioned it again and he said I don’t like that. His Mother was the same. Funnily enough, his niece was diagnosed with ‘Oppositional Defiance Disorder,’ I did some research on this and could only find it being present in children. I think OCS is a combination of insecurity, dominance and a superiority complex, coupled with competition and a need to be always one up.

  23. I know at people like this, they’re extremely wearying. Some commentators seem to think we’re talking about normal levels of healthy opposition or debate; I come from a European culture where debate is normal and welcome, and people don’t tend to be overly sensitive and that’s not what OCS is about. There’s a huge difference between taking an opposing view and constantly, obsessively, taking the opposing and negative view.
    People with OCS would say one thing, and the moment you agree with them, tell you you’re wrong or you don’t understand. It’s disagreement over trivial points, completely at odds with normal social chit chat. It’s also a tendency to portray themselves as above your meagre understanding – you can’t possibly understand their complex outlook or feelings. And as many have observed, it’s an expression of insecurity. And sometimes it’s just plain old fashioned rudeness.
    My usual course of action is to give it a short while, if they continue I just cut the conversation short and move on. If it’s someone I have to deal with regularly, I will gently, and politely express that it’s not conducive to co-operation.

  24. If my thought is incorrect I have no problem with being corrected; in fact I appreciate it! I don’t think that is the issue. The issue, as far as I understand it, is when people cannot stick to their own argument and tend to change their own opinion back and forth during a conversation. I know one person where as soon as you agree with him he flips sides. People, this is not an example of “playing devils advocate” or “wanting to stimulate the thoughts of others”, this is an annoying characteristic that, in my opinion, is generated by insecurity and a desire to keep the conversation going that will, unfortunately, achieve the opposite effect…no one will want to speak with you which will leave you feeling alone.

  25. I have one of these people in my life right now, a co-worker. He has a comeback to every comment I make, everything. He doesn’t do this to the other people I work with. It is annoying. If my comment can’t be countered with something current, if my comment can’t be disputed then he will bring up something in the past that may be similar or not related at all and try to tie it into the conversation. It is very childish. It’s like if he can’t prove me wrong, he will bring up some other time I was wrong, or may have been wrong, and it doesn’t matter how trivial the past action was. He remembers everything, every tid bit, for later use. There is definitely some kind of problem there. But he has the ability to hold his tounge with the other team mates (who are all men, I’m a girl), so he has to be aware of what he is doing. It seems like he doesn’t have the respect for me that he has with the other guys. If he counter-attacked them like he does me at every word, they would knocked him down. Sometimes I can ignore him, sometimes he makes the job really frustrating.

  26. I have a sister who constantly every since I can remember has done this to only me and no one else. It has taken a toll on me emotionally and psychologically. I agree it is extremely exhausting to have a conversation with her. Over many years of listening to my sister disagree and say the complete opposite of everything I say (sending a strong message of I’m right, your wrong), I started doubting myself and my own intuition. Even though I happen to be very a intuitive person, and have been told this by many. For years now I have been trying to figure out what it is all about, why she does this to me every time we have a conversation together, hoping to find an answer so at the very least if I can not correct the problem, I could at least understand the why behind it all. After reading the article and all the comments, I have to say that I agree with those who claim it has something to do with being insecure, my sister definitely has a lot of insecurity issues. I also believe it has something to do with competition as well. We are only 1 year apart in age, I am older than her. My sister also is the “middle child” in the family, so I think this also comes into play. I’m not so sure about her coming across as trying to be dominant, but I can definitely see a superiority complex, but only towards me. It makes me very sad because she does not see anything wrong with it, only that it is me who is always wrong apparently. I don’t know what to do about it anymore, its very frustrating. I believe she does it deliberately and this hurts me to think that she is purposely trying to hurt me. :-(

  27. I have recently noticed I have this style and my mum also pointed it out this evening. I thought I had just been irritable and easily annoyed and that’s why I kept challenging people but now I realise its for no reason at all. The reason I believe I do it, is not because I want to be annoying (now I have realised what it is I am desperate to stop) or not because I want an intellectual debate, its because in some parts of life, perhaps work or education, I feel insecure. Therefore I often agree with conversations here for the sake of it or don’t say something I want to through fear of embarrassment or rejection from those people I am not 100% comfortable to be myself around. However, around close family and friends I can be very harsh and challenging, opposing almost any small comment. My theory is that I do this around those I do feel comfortable with to compensate for the fact I feel unable to even oppose at all in other areas of life.

  28. My oldest daughter uses this style of communication often. She is 26 yo and is a cluster b. I find her using this most when someone says she doesn’t really pull her load when it comes to cleaning around the house, buying food for herself and kids, taking on the responsibility for her kids or anything that has to do with her functioning in life. I have started to realign myself with the facts like, my bank statement says I buy 95% of the food, clothes and shoes for her kids and it’s my husband and I who clean the house. Regardless of what her mouth says the facts still remain. It is very irritating.



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