Ever Been Stuck in an “I’m Right; You’re Wrong” Conversation?

Assay: I’m always looking for patterns in people’s actions and temperament. You know that old joke? “The world is divided into two groups: people who divide the world into two groups, and people who don’t.” I’m definitely in the first category.

I love learning about patterns, such as the “service heart,” and I get a tremendous thrill whenever I manage to identify some new pattern myself. Abstainers and moderators. Over-buyers and under-buyersAlchemists and leopards.

Here’s a new phenomenon I’ve tentatively identified: oppositional conversational style.

A person with oppositional conversational style is a person who, in conversation, disagrees with and corrects whatever you say. He or she may do this in a friendly way, or a belligerent way, but this person frames remarks in opposition to whatever you venture.

I noticed this for the first time in a conversation with a guy a few months ago. We were talking about social media, and before long, I realized that whatever I’d say, he’d disagree with me. If I said, “X is important,” he’d say, “No, actually, Y is important.” For two hours. And I could tell that if I’d said, “Y is important,” he would’ve argued for X.

I saw this style again, in a chat with friend’s wife who, no matter what casual remark I made, would disagree. “That sounds fun,” I observed. “No, not at all,” she answered. “That must have been really difficult,” I said. “No, for someone like me, it’s no problem,” she answered. Etc.

Since those conversations, I’ve noticed this phenomenon several times.

Here are my questions about oppositional conversational style:

Have you noticed this, too? Or am I making this up?

If OCS is real, is it a strategy that particular people use consistently? Or is there something about me, or about that particular conversation, that induced these people to use it?

Along those lines, is OCS a way to try to assert dominance, by correction? That’s how it feels, and also…

Do people who use OCS recognize this style of engagement in themselves; do they see a pattern in their behavior that’s different from that of most other people?

Do they have any idea how tiresome it can be?

In the case of the first example, my interlocutor used OCS in a very warm, engaging way. Perhaps, for him, it’s a tactic to drive the conversation forward and to keep it interesting. This kind of debate did indeed throw up a lot of interesting insights and information. But, I must admit, it was wearing.

In the second example, the contradictory responses felt like a challenge.

I described oppositional conversational style to my husband and asked if he knew what I was talking about. He did (so, in answer to #1 above, there’s at least one person), and he warned me, “Watch out! Don’t start thinking about this, and then start to do it yourself.”

I had to laugh, because he knows me very well. I have a strong tendency towards belligerence—for instance, it’s one reason I basically quit drinking—and I could easily fall into OCS. (I just hope I don’t exhibit OCS already, which is quite possible.)

But I do recognize that to be on the receiving end of the oppositional conversational style—to have someone keep telling you that you’re wrong, over and over—is not pleasant.

It’s wearing at best, and often highly annoying. Even in the case of my first example, when the OCS had a fun, friendly spirit, it took a lot of self-command for me to stay calm and un-defensive. Many points could have been made in a less “Let me set you straight” way.

And in the second example, I felt patronized. Here I was, trying to make pleasant conversation, and she kept contradicting me. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes and retort, “Fine, whatever, actually I don’t care if you had fun or not.”

Now, I’m not arguing that everyone should agree all the time. Nope. I love a debate (and I was trained as a lawyer, which definitely made me more comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with confrontation). But it’s not much fun when every single statement in a casual conversation is met with,“Nope, you’re wrong; I’m right.” Skillful conversationalists can explore disagreements and make points in ways that feel constructive and positive, rather than combative or corrective.

From now on, when I encounter OCS-inclined people, I’m going to ask them about it. I’m so curious to know their view of their own style.

What do you think? Do you recognize it in other people–or in yourself?

  • http://www.facebook.com/victoria.perkins.948 Victoria Perkins

    “From now on, when I encounter OCS-inclined people, I’m going to ask them about it. I’m so curious to know their view of their own style.”  You realize of course that they will probably correct you that it isn’t something that they do.  Unfortunately I have a little of this in me and my son is quite the arguer for argument’s sake.  He enjoys calling me out on things.  I’ve seen that he has done it with other people as well and have talked with him about it.  I’m not sure he can see it.  He’s only 10 so I’m hoping there is still time for him to stop the tendencies in his conversations.  Luckily he is a very good storyteller so he is fun to listen to.  I just wish I could help him see how frustrating the other part is to those he is talking to. 

  • elizabeth

    yes! it’s real! …. my husband didn’t believe me a number of years ago when i tried to explain how my son contradicted EVERY single thing i said … so i showed him … we went outside …..wow, it’s a beautiful day …no, it’s really too hot … the sky is so blue … can’t you see the gray over there … i love playing in the green grass … you don’t play in it, you just sit there with the dog … and it’s not JUST green, there are plenty of brown bits … maybe cause it’s so hot ….. even the most mundane things were contradicted … he still does it, though, not as frequently … but now my youngest has started … she watched me type this post on facebook: my parents left thirty minutes ago and now i am SO sad … she said, they didn’t leave 30 minutes ago! … because, in fact they had left 23 minutes ago … argh!! … quite frustrating! …. i can think of only one adult who does this … and she’s an eeyore, so if i avoid happy topics, things are better! oh my! 

    yes. real. thanks for naming it.

    • Victoria

      Is he a teenager? Mine used to do that when he was grumpy and looking for a fight!

      • gretchenrubin

        Yes, I wonder if OCS is especially common in teenagers. They’re trying to show their autonomy, and disagreeing is one way.

      • elizabeth

        it started as a preteen …. and has stretched into teendom … i don’ think he’s especially grumpy, but not that i’ve read the other comments, it might be a defensive mechanism … he has a pavlovian response to argue with me perhaps … will you pick up your towel, put your laundry away, have you done your homework,  look at this beautiful flower …. he’ll “talk back” to anything …. 

    • http://flavors.me/lizacowan lizadiamond

      I know a teenager who does this all the time. day in day out. Talking with her is so exhausting She does it with her teenage friends too, and I watch them getting annoyed at her.

    • star1234

      Loved your example. Surprisingly I can only think of one or two people I know who are always like this. It’s irritating because it’s…boring, you don’t learn anything. Second, they try to make you feel off balance and wrong. And they try to stop dialogue. They actually expect you to change to their opinion! Often I just stop talking. Black is white…uh…no…Seriously, it is….Uh, OK. To me a conversation can have two viewpoints, but each adds information and insight as it goes along–not shuts it down. Black is white…(jokingly) With gray around the edges?….Well, sometimes, I remember one time…” etc.

  • http://www.myhonestanswer.com/ my honest answer

    I have a friend like this. Whatever I say, she will counter it with, ‘But…’

    Sometimes she does it in a positive way (and I think that is her intent). If I complain, she’ll come up with a ‘but’. But them if I’m pleased about something, she’s also quick to ‘but’ me and tell me what might go wrong.

    I think it’s a pattern people fall into without realizing it. Even when my friend deliberately asks my opinion about something, she will argue with whatever I say. So I have taken to just pretending I don’t have an opinion! 

    (I must say she is fab in EVERY other way, just describes what you’re talking about perfectly Gretchen, so no, you’re not imagining it!)

  • Angie

    Yes! I especially notice when OCS people essentially agree with you, but have to nitpick what you said. For example, I may say, “I really enjoyed going to the theater the other night.” He will say, “You mean, the opera. Me too.” It drives me insane. Another pattern is people who will repeat things over and over until you agree with them. “This is the best scallop I have ever had.” over and over and over until I agree it was the best scallop I ever had. I can’t just say, “That is great.” If I say, I’ve had better – I am being contrary or one-upping.

    On the point about asking the person about it – My husband and I struggled a lot with this at the being of the marriage and finally I just asked him – Why is it so important for you to be right and for me to be wrong? Is this something really important to you? If so, should I lie so it can appear that I agree with you when I don’t so that you can feel “right”? He thought he was just making conversation and that I would value being corrected all the time.

    • Victoria

      Yes, yes I still have problems with the type who repeat the same thing until you feel you are being adversarial if you don’t agree! Even if I say yes it is a very nice X or Y they will go on and on about ‘how can I not think it is the best’ until I want to say ‘be quiet already!’

    • Lisa Cochrane

      LOL about people repeating themselves until you agree. My ex-boyfriend did this often, kept arguing a point that I had already agreed with. Finally I said, “Hey! Stop arguing with me! I’m agreeing with your point!” and he said, “I don’t want you to agree, I want you to feel the power of my words.” 

      It made me realize that he wasn’t feeling heard, even though I was technically agreeing with him. Funny how most verbal conflict boils down to people just wanting to be heard. Hilarious. I still use “feel the power of my words” to this day to indicate when someone mildly agrees to something you feel very strongly about.

      • gretchenrubin

        My husband talks about being “in violent agreement”—conversations where people seem to be arguing but are actually making the same point at each other.

  • Guest

    YES. Absolutely! This is such a helpful way to describe what drives me crazy about some people. My father definitely does this. Your example of “That sounds fun,” “No, not really…” resonated with me so much. Like, I’m JUST making conversation. Don’t they realize how much kinder it is to say something like, “Yeah, it was fun, although…” Agree first, then make a point expressing a different view, if you must. It’s just much less confrontational, particularly when the thing you’re talking about doesn’t actually matter and isn’t a matter of right or wrong.

  • Grandma Honey

    Actually I ‘ve been thinking about this very thing lately because I have 3 people in my life who are OCS on a regular basis. For now, I do best just to limit my contact with them. I’ve never thought to ask them if they are aware they do this. I’m not sure I could be that direct. And like you said, they would probably argue about that too. I do have an opinion as to why they do this. I think they want to be heard, they want a reaction, they want to feel important so that is their attempt to assert themselves.

    Also, how about the insistent Pollyanna? I’m basically an upbeat person. I recognize that I have a very good life. But sometimes if I am struggling with something and mention it to her, she IMMEDIATELY has to correct me and stress how it is a good thing because of this reason and that reason…..when really all I want her to do is listen and validate my feelings.

    I also have another friend who cannot take any good news at all about anyone’s life, including mine. So I leave that out.  So I love to point out the negative things to her because it makes her so happy. Strange, I know,but true.

    Very interesting thought-provoking post, Gretchen.

    • Shirley Creed

       I agree with you about the “insistent Pollyanna”, Grandma Honey. When I was younger I was always trying to offer solutions but I have since realized that sometimes people simply want to vent and I offer support and a friendly ear instead.

  • Teresa

    Wow!  I have a few people in my life who do this, but I never recognized it as a “conversational style.”  Now that I think of it, I’m guilty of this, as well. I always thought it was because some people are more optimistic, while others (including myself) are pessimistic. And you’re right that it doesn’t mean that they are unfriendly. They might not know that they are constantly finding fault in what you’re saying. Interesting.

  • Alickerman

    I definitely have this myself.  I notice it especially with my wife, who, like me, is a strong-willed person.  Part of it, I think, is that I’ve been trained to think critically about everything and almost no statement lacks a counterpoint.  But why I feel impelled to bring up counterpoints to so many of the points my wife makes escapes me.  Perhaps because it’s a way to maintain a sense of autonomy? Sometimes I feel like I must “balance out” her statements, especially if they’re extreme. I honestly don’t know why I do this, but I often don’ t like myself for it.

  • Victoria

    If this is any help to you this is what I have noticed. I myself used to engage on the occasion in this type of conversation. It was only ever with people who annoyed me. For example my mother-in-law always has to be right. It is a trait everyone who knows her smiles about. I can’t, it annoys me and has a lot to do with growing up in a house where I was never right. When we talked it did not help that she and I have tastes as different as Severus Snape and Hagrid. She would go on about how lovely a frilly X or Y was and me, not being big on frill, would say how much I did not like it instead of pointing out the nice things about it say colour or fabric. One day I realized how completely unpleasant I was being and decided that I would stop. I know now I did it to assert control and dominate in a subtle way.  I was also very pleasant when I did it. My mother-in-law has always tried to assert subtle control over my husband when she visits and implies he is closer to her than me. It was my way of figuratively sticking it to her. I later began to watch when/if I did it with others. The people I did it with were people I felt in competition with. I then went to the complete extreme always trying to find something to agree with when engaged in conversation with someone I had little in common with or did not agree with and now I am a happy balance and happier for it. It was in meeting people who engaged in this form of verbal warfare that I realized how unpleasant it must be to be on the receiving end. I agree with you it is very annoying. In your case it may happen because you are successful, well informed, and insecure people feel threatened by you. I do think some people just enjoy what they feel is debate and do it for that reason alone. I still find it annoying after too long.

    • DH

      As I was scrolling through the comments I was surprised no one else ever saw this in their own behavior. As I read the post I thought, “I do that with my mother-in-law! No wonder our visits are always so unpleasant.”

      “My mother-in-law has always tried to assert subtle control over my
      husband when she visits and implies he is closer to her than me. It was
      my way of figuratively sticking it to her.” Yes, and yes.

      Glad to know I’m not alone in recognizing it in myself. My mother-in-law and I don’t see each other often, but I’ll be seeing her next week. Now that I’m mindful of my own OCS ways, I’ll be working hard to be more agreeable.

      • Victoria

        This may make you giggle but after I stopped completely being that way with her I noticed one of the things she does that sets me off  is that she keeps on repeating how great or yummy or beautiful something is until I agree or appear quarrelsome if I don’t. (Someone else mentioned this point in their post ) Now whenever she goes off on how X is the best she has ever had/seen/done and don’t I agree, since I know she will keep on repeating it like a meditation mantra until I do agree I smile and say, “It just may be!”

        • Victoria

          Oh and by the way good for you in recognizing it AND doing something about it!

  • http://thesepeastastefunny.blogspot.com Terry Cohoe

    My mother-in-law does this with everyone.  I think it actually comes from insecurity on her part.  I think she feels ‘less’ than other people and so she tries to be the one with the answer.  It is tiring, but knowing where it comes from makes it easier to let it go (most of the time, lol).

    • Momof5

       My mother-in-law does this, too, but I see it more with the kids – her grandchildren, for crying out loud – than with adults. It drives me crazy, and when they’re little, it really hurt their feelings. With adults, rather than offering an oppositional statement, she sometimes purses up her mouth and rolls her eyes, as if to say, “Well obviously that’s wrong, but I’m not going to say anything.” I feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it, it drives me so nuts.

      Interestingly, when I follow up on her opposition – for example, when she announces that something is just plain wrong, I’ve said, “That’s so interesting – I’ve never thought of it that way. Can you tell me more about it?” – she’ll stop talking. Which suggests to me that it really is a habit or a tic – she doesn’t really believe what she’s asserting.

      And yes, it’s par for the course with teens, in my experience. But it’s a little different at that developmental stage than it is with adults, and a little different (sometimes very amusing) when they’re oppositional just to their parents and charming everywhere else.

      Glad to know there are so many others out there experiencing this – well, sorry that it’s miserable for you, too, but glad I’m not alone in the misery!

      • gretchenrubin

        I know just what you mean about little kids. They’re so eager and proud to demonstrate their knowledge of the world, and so crushed when someone harshly tells them they’re wrong.

        Your response sounds very measured and mature, I will try that! I have a very hard time not getting combative in an OCS situation, and I don’t like that about myself, so the whole thing spirals down fast.

        • Momof5

           Ha! I’m laughing about “measured and mature.” Truth is I’ve only managed the non-confrontational response about three times in more than 20 years. But it did work in interesting ways those few times . . .

  • Jbout17

    I always describe how one of my brothers talks this way, “I might say there is not a cloud in the sky” and he will find a teensy smudge somewhere and say but “there is a cloud in the sky”. For my brother, I think he does it out of insecurity, he has a lot going on in the “issues category” so whenever my brother starts being OCS, I don’t engage, but I do change the conversation.

    On the other hand, some people are just downright annoying and it is a control issue. Most of the time I just don’t engage because as you have related, once you go down that path it keeps going. However, when I encounter people who make statements that are either gross assumptions about a situation that I completely disagree with or gross assumptions about a general idea, politics, I will engage and state my opinion.

    In either case, I always ask myself “is it worth engaging?” In most cases it isn’t and I let the remark slide by. As you have stated, it is easy to recognize the OCS person, so once you do, it then gives you the choice rather than getting trapped in a spiraling conversation.

    • gretchenrubin

      The comments are so interesting! So this conversational style IS a real thing.

  • D. Lane

    I have long noticed this tendency in certain people, and my term for these determined devil’s advocates is “yes-butters.” OCS sounds much more legitimate. Thanks for the bringing this up for discussion.

  • Susannah

    Holy cow!  This is fascinating.  You just identified what bothers me about one of my absolute best friends.  Gretchen, please keep exploring this topic because I would like to learn more.  My girlfriend opposes everything I say — but she does it kindly, with a smile.  It’s as though she feels her job is to play devil’s advocate 100% of the time.  Whenever I get off the phone with her, I’m exhausted.  I love her dearly, but I often avoid her calls when I’m just not up to the task.  Now I know why.  I wonder if it’s best to point this out to her or to accept it as part of her personality?  I’ve known her for 20 years and she’s always been this way.  Also, perhaps it stems from a certain type of personality.  I can tell you she is wildly insecure on the inside, but puts on an amazing front for the world.  Hmmm…  Thanks for your insight!  

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s interesting to wonder why people have this style. I think for some people, it’s definitely related to wanting to be “right,” but I wonder if some folks have just fallen into the habit, and don’t even realize that they have this tendency. They may even think it’s helpful (as an early commenter mentioned) or that it’s perceived to be useful, by giving clarity.

  • LizHH

    Your first experience sounds like a classic case of mansplaining to me, and oh is it annoying! However, I have absolutely noticed this in both men and women (and sadly, sometimes myself). That style is very much ingrained in my family: my dad’s father was a lawyer and ran every dinner in the “Socratic method” style of questioning everyone’s information and requiring precision of thought and language. From casual observation, I think many families (and universities) encourage this style. To make a huge generalization, it seems to be extra-prevalent in intellectual and/or wealthy east coast families.

    It may be your (wonderful) articulate ideas that encourage those conversations. Some people hear a new “argument” and that triggers their debating instincts. You’ve expressed new ideas — the only “friendly” thing to do is to challenge them and see where they lead! Or maybe not.

    The second conversation you mentioned also seems familiar. I know a lot of people who hate to feel boxed in by others’ expectations. The comments are intended to be empathetic, but the listener ends up feeling bullied and gets peevish as a result. Maybe you feel this way when someone comments on your blog and misinterprets what you’ve said? Of course, the polite thing to do is to let these little misunderstandings go. I’d chalk up the experience with your friend’s wife to bad chemistry and, just as you said, a naturally oppositional nature.

    One the one hand, you have people who consider themselves intellectual, insightful, always or often right, out-of-the-box thinkers. And on the other you have the rest of the world that finds them downright rude. :)

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, while many people would prefer a slight degree of conversational inaccuracy to a high degree of correction, you’re right, seems like many people want to make sure every detail is correct and so pursue that.

    • Rebeckola

      I agree that the second conversation was different. As implied by the two excerpts posted, the woman was correcting what she felt to be inaccurate statements about her own feelings. If that was really the scope of the “combativeness,” I’m not sure I wouldn’t agree with her insistence on representing her own way of looking at the world. Maybe she felt she was expanding your mind a bit, showing you there are different ways to react to a situation. I could be wrong, it just seemed that was to me from the two examples you gave.

  • K.A.M.

    Once I’ve identified this type of  “conversationalist”, I make a deliberate effort to suppress becoming annoyed or combative ( it’s the journalist in me – I sometimes can’t help verbally engage with them). Instead,  I amuse myself by playing a little game.  I’ll deliberately throw out statements/thoughts and wait for the very predicatable, oposing view from them.  This strategy makes the interaction amusing rather than aggrevating.

    • gretchenrubin

      This response shows a high level of self-awareness and self-command! I want to try this—if I can pull it off.

      • Faith

         hi! love this post, my ah ha moment is that i have friends who are
        ‘MODERATORS (dont know if this term has been used as such)’! there are a
        bunch of  OCSs in a certain social circle (and im sure im probably also
        guilty at times) but we also have someone who i will call  a ‘moderator’,
        someone who will listen and somehow smooth things over. i never
        understood why when she isnt there i come home from events with this
        circle feeling dissatisfied. thanks gretchen,  and to my friends who are
        moderators. i will to learn from my moderator friends.hi! love this post, my ah ha moment is that i have friends who are
        ‘MODERATORS (dont know if this term has been used as such)’! there are a
        bunch of  OCSs in a certain social circle (and im sure im probably also
        guilty at times) but we also have someone who i will call  a ‘moderator’,
        someone who will listen and somehow smooth things over. i never
        understood why when she isnt there i come home from events with this
        circle feeling dissatisfied. thanks gretchen,  and to my friends who are
        moderators. i will to learn from my moderator friends.

  • D.P.K.

    I’m so glad you brought this up today!  This is exactly the dynamic I struggle with with someone in my life.  I find it irritating and unpleasant and exhausting.  It’s funny — it’s taken me a long time to identify this dynamic and to recognize why I always want to back away from conversations with him… And here you go, spelling it out so clearly.   I recognize the dynamics that might cause this — occupational hazard (ie, teacher or “expert”), insecurity, just an awkward way of contributing to a conversation — I still find it rather unpleasant and am recognizing how much it makes me want to avoid this person.  I suspect that people who do this don’t recognize the extent of how they do it.

    • gretchenrubin

      Right, they don’t recognize the extent of it, or the way it makes other people feel.

  • http://twitter.com/fancypance Sarah Mink Terrill

    Both conversational extremes can be irritating.  If someone ALWAYS agrees or ALWAYS disagrees, well, yuck! You’re talking to find out what each of you have to say, not to get the same type of response every time.

    Many conversations could benefit from a tad of gentle disagreement to be interesting.  Otherwise,  the conversation erodes into small talk. And, I think this is why so many people dislike small talk – it is boring! So, a sprinkle of opposition keeps things lively.

    However, when someone must continuously disagrees, that’s boring too.  I’ve never thought of nonstop opposition as a “conversational style” at all! I’ve thought of it as simply the phenomenon of “being a jerk”!

  • TonyG

    Funny, Gretchen, I was describing such a conversation just yesterday! I bumped into a friend I had not seen in years. 

    Him: I just moved back to the city.
    Me: Great!
    Him: No, I hate where I’m living now. I moved back after getting my Masters degree.
    Me: Congratulations!
    Him: No, it’s useless, I can’t get any work with it.
    Me: Well, maybe we’ll bump into each other again.
    Him: No, I usually don’t come down this way.

    It was exhausting, and I truly think he thought he was being witty and engaging. I also realized that he’s always been this way. And that he’s someone we euphemistically describe as “nerdy,”* when what we really mean is that he’s a bit further up the Asperger’s scale than most people. He also seems very insecure, trying to prove his intelligence and the worth of his own opinions; perhaps a bit immature, too, in that he can’t allow others to like something he does not like.

    Note that he is not a good friend of mine, mostly for these very reasons!

    * I love nerds, btw; I mean it affectionately.

  • http://laurapiercehorton.blogspot.com/ Laura

    I have a bit of this in me. There is the “introduce critical
    thought to a conversation” use, which done in the right tone and with the right restraint (something that took a while for me to get right) is usually positive. Then there are the seedier sides: as a slightly anal detail-oriented
    person, to correct details or facts added to a conversation I know to be
    wrong. The latter happens almost exclusively in group settings — it’s
    like an impulse to prevent mis-education. Ridiculous, and something I, like Alickerman, don’t like myself very much for. At the time it feels like I’m offering help, but retrospectively just makes me feel like a jerk. Additonally, something related, though I’ve mostly grown out of is the one-upping, which was definitely a product of insecurity.

    Definitely a real thing — and especially poignant for me right now as it was the focus of a recent argument (more of a scolding really) with (/from) my boyfriend.

  • Lilysunshine

     I have a friend who does this with me, mostly regarding relationships. A number of months ago I went through a breakup, and no matter what I said I felt like doing, or wanted to do, she disagreed. If I wanted to call him or see him, I shouldn’t, because it was going to make it harder. If I wanted to not see him or answer him, I should do those things, because I was being too hard on him/myself/the tree outside.

    I finally, finally got myself back together, and just started seeing someone else. Now, if I talk about how well I’m doing or how excited I am, she cautions me not to jump into anything or get too close. If I talk about being cautious, she tells me I’m still hung up on my ex or I’m too negative.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that she is just an argumentative person. Or has a very negative outlook on life. Or maybe she is just too cautious or scared to do much of anything.

  • Angelyn

    I had a friend who was so extreme with this that I finally “dumped” her with “It’s just more important to you to be right than to be my friend”.  I literally could not take it anymore.

    I think this style can easily be a result of either insecurity or dominance, or both.

    For less extreme cases, I find using questions instead of statements can help.  Instead of saying “That must be fun!” (which is debatable), you say “Wow!  How was that?”  You’re moving the conversation along, but you won’t be disagreed with, because you haven’t expressed an opinion.  It’s something I’ll revert to when I’m enjoying the conversation enough to continue, but want to escape debate mode.  You can even try “I’ve heard X is important in social media.  Do you think it is?”  I did learn this technique from a woman who works professionally with troubled teenagers!

    • gretchenrubin

      That sounds like a very good strategy…though taken too far, it could become another somewhat tiresome mode of conversation! The non-stop interview. Have you ever talked to people who just fire questions at you? As if you’re on 20/20 or something? I think they think it’s flattering, but done to the extreme, it doesn’t feel like real interest, just a style.

      • Judy_kisbee

        Yah, I find that really exhausting when that happens and you know it is going to go on and on and you feel trapped.     

      • Susan

        This is interesting to me, I have an “interrogatory” friend like this and I enjoy our conversations VERY much — for a limited time.  And have you ever noticed that these people can become quite uncomfortable if you (dare to) ask them anything?  So I do think it’s a protective mechanism to some degree, if they can keep you answering they don’t have to share, or have any answers themselves….

      • The Other Kat

        Gretchen,

        If you feel this way about the rapid-fire questioning, perhaps you can turn it around by asking the other person questions about themselves?

        I’m surprised people find this off-putting, as I am guilty of this. It is something I do intentionally, to show interest. Many years ago, when I was single and very attractive, men would comment on my physical beauty or clothing but never ask questions about myself. So I am probably sensitive to it for that reason.

        My husband rarely asks questions in conversation and when I point it out to him (I find it narcissistic!) he has said the same thing as you – that it feels like 20 questions or like it’s prying. “If people want to offer information, they will.” I do not agree. I don’t offer information at ALL unless someone asks. (I am more of the introverted observer type.) Yet I have met many people who LOVE to talk about themselves and never ask me anything. We have “friends” who I swear must know nothing about me after four years of socializing. Those people are the biggest bores of all! But I digress…

        Occasionally I do enjoy playing devil’s advocate, but will announce that I am doing so. It is important to read the other person or situation before doing this. Is it someone who enjoys a debate, or a friend who just wants to be heard? For me it has nothing to do with being insecure or trying to exert control or dominance. I simply pride myself on being able to see both sides of an issue, but I make sure not to go too far with it. It is usually quite clear whether the other person is open to debate or not.

        Personally, I do not trust or respect people who are too agreeable. My mother always agreed with whomever was speaking. I often wonder what these people are really thinking. Because of this upbringing, I will not hesitate to give my opinion, but once stated, I will not force it down someone’s throat as the man did in your first example. I do understand that you are talking extremes here.

        In your second example, I believe the woman was simply being honest. If she did not find something fun, should she have said she did? 

        Back to the first example: The man could not have gone on and on with the OCS on his own. Is it possible you continued to argue your side as long as he argued his? Perhaps it was a matter of two people trying to be right? It is easy to get sucked in, and once I realize it I say, “Oh, well. I’m sure you are right and I am wrong!” and stop engaging. This is a very effective way of getting the person to realize he is being a right-fighter. It is clear I don’t actually believe he is right – just that I have grown tired of the conversation style. Passive aggressive? Maybe, but it works!

        Sorry so long, but this is such an interesting topic! I don’t think I have ever seen so many responses. It has definitely made me think!

    • http://ripleyadoption.blogspot.com/ Alissa

      I completely agree with you. I found myself doing that to my husband, I always thought it was because I received a superior education to his. I realized I did it too much, it annoyed me! So, I really pay attention now, I’m glad my husband loves me still!

      Alissa
      ripleyadoption.blogspot.com

  • Nryan

    I have dealt with this type of person at work.  I think it’s low-confidence (at least for this particular person).  The constant need to “one up” someone, instead of actually listening to them, to me, reeks of low-confidence.  To me it signals the person’s need to DISPLAY their knowledge rather than SHARE their knowledge – they are uncomfortable having a balanced conversation, where both parties share idea, the constanly have to “rise above” the other…annoying.   

    • Festushaggin

       Hey, did you see that movie “The Polar Express”? There was one little boy on the train who was always showing off what he knew and his lesson was to “learn”. (Another boy’s was to “trust”, another boy’s was to “believe” and the little girl’s lesson was to “lead”.

  • Kristen

    I’m curious how you will ask the OCS-inclined people about their OCS. 

    • gretchenrubin

      I don’t know! I will only mention it if I feel I can do it in a calm, non-confrontational way!

    • Marie

      Yes, Kristen!  I was going to ask the same exact question.  How do you do it without embarrassing the person?

      • gretchenrubin

        I don’t know! One thing about OCS, which is probably not helpful for THEM, is that it’s a style that makes them feel overbearing and insensitive, and therefore, don’t need to be handled as gently. And probably they’re as sensitive as anyone else, despite their style. This, in fact, may compound their OCS tendencies…

        On the other hand, people are usually interested to hear about themselves, so I will try to find the right person to raise this with.

        Also, as the comments show. at least some people with OCS are aware and proud of it, and think it’s valuable strategy, so I imagine they wouldn’t find it embarrassing that someone pointed it out.

        • betty

          I confronted my husband about this a few months ago.  Of course, his first response was “I don’t do that.”  So, I started to show him what it was like.  He got the message real quick about how annoying it can be. He truly didn’t know he was doing this! I’m not sure WHY he does it, but at least he’s willing to see what he’s doing. 

          I’ve read a lot of the posts which show that some people are aware of this tendency in themselves.  I’m not saying they are wrong or that this doesn’t have value in making a conversation, it just becomes annoying when it is constant.  Why talk to that person when you know they are just going to say the opposite?

  • Noel711

    You have just identified my husband David. For years I thought he was always undermining me, and thus I hesitating sharing anything with him because he always jumped in with an oppositional view. Now when this occurs, I challenge him back.. ask why he can’t accept  my view or experience without being an antagonist.  I tell him I just need him to listen without judging…He isn’t aware he’s doing that, thus he has to think.Which is a good thing…

    • Marie

      I love how you describe the situation:  thus I hesitate  sharing anything with him because he always jumped in with an oppositional view.  This is a wonderful, kind way to say how annoying this habit can be.  I have a co-worker who, at meetings, responds this way to everyone’s ideas, concerns, etc.  So everyone just clams-up and nothing ever gets solved.  I may borrow your statement and ask that when someone speaks, a negative statement shouldn’t automatically follow.

  • KD

    My husband calls that “just trying to contribute to the conversation.” I call it maddening!

    • gretchenrubin

      Next question: how do people who use OCS view this style when they’re talking to someone who is using it? If they don’t mind it or notice it, maybe they use OCS because they don’t realize that it can be tiresome. Or maybe they react with irritation, too – but don’t realize their own tendency to use this style.

      Do you know how your husband reacts when talking to a fellow OCS?

  • Hannah Megill

    I sometimes do this. I tend to argue for whichever side is not being argued for, leaving a few of my friends very confused about what I actually think. Heh. Some of it is about finding balance – in almost any issue I am in the middle and can see both sides. I’m more likely to do this if the person I’m talking with makes their statement very… assertively, as if their answer is the only one. Even if I agree with their statement, I’m very likely to suddenly take the opposite viewpoint and argue for that because I want them to see and acknowledge both sides. They don’t actually have to completely buy my argument for me to drop it; they just have to acknowledge its validity.

    • gretchenrubin

      I certainly know the feeling, and often find myself doing this as well – and will gently note that others may find this approach draining, if too consistent a style.

    • Ohey

      well put! I definitely try to balance arguments sometimes.

  • Sdkricard

    My husband is the OCS type, which drives me crazy. I have a hard time finding a balance between constantly feeling like I have to defend my position or if it’s better to just let it go. He feels the need to be “right” or more knowledgeable, and then goes on and on about a subject. He does this with other people too,  not just me. I also need to do some self-evaluation. I don’t think I have OCS tendencies, but I haven’t thought about it in terms of myself.

  • Leslie

    You have described my husband perfectly.  Now I have a label for it!

    • Leslie

      ….and when I recently pointed out that he contradicts everything I say, his response (predictably) was “No, I don’t!”

      • http://www.myhonestanswer.com/ my honest answer

        Ha ha! Hilarious. 

  • Mainejunklist

    Great post and responses! I would agree with the response from LizHH.  Growing up, my husbands dinner table  conversation promoted (sharp) verbal  debate style interactions (to promote crital thinking.)  The first dinner I had with my husbands family was a loud debate about the English Monarchy System.  BTW, neither of them  care about this matter. My husband verbally shredded his mothers support of the Monarchy and almost left her in tears. Lesson: Best be careful what we teach our children…it comes back to haunt us!  Good news: my husband is now a  highly successful lawyer. Bad news: He has OCS. It can be painful at dinner parties.  BTW, I have gently attempted to point out my husbands OCS to him.  Guess what…he actively disagrees!
    Gretchen ~ would love to get your thoughts about BEST conversational styles :)

    • http://flavors.me/lizacowan lizadiamond

      I’ve met a family just like this….I couldn’t believe how much enjoyment they got from flaying one another.

  • Betsy22

    I agree with the dominance idea – I have caught myself doing OCS on occasions when I felt that someone was being bossy or patronizing, but it wasn’t quite worth it to me to challenge the behavior directly.  I’m not saying that this was the case here, but it is a trigger for me.
     
    For example, I have a particular friend who often says “you should” do this or that…I think that she’s trying to be helpful and suggest activities that I might like, but that “should” just drives me batty – it feels overbearing, especially when I didn’t ask for her help/advice in the first place.   I often find myself responding “well, I don’t actually like [this type of thing]” or “I’ve actually already figured it out…”  Once she starts bringing out the “should,” there’s absolutely nothing that she could say that I would ever agree to.
     
    However, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t my everyday conversational style.  I do enjoy a good debate, but I’m definitely not a nit-picker and often go out of my way to find points of agreement, even in debates.

  • Db

    Yes it’s real! I need to watch this in myself.

  • anonymousone

    One of my best friends is like this. He’s not quite so directly contradictory, but he does have the “I’m right” sort of personality. I’ve learned that if there are topics on which I don’t want to hear suggestions about how whatever it is I’m talking about could be better if done his way, I just don’t bring it up.

    My aunt is also very much the type where there’s her way and the wrong way. She hosts regular family gatherings, and after two or three in a row where I brought up things I’d read about that I thought were interesting and the reaction from her made me feel like I was stupid for not knowing about them already, I decided I didn’t need to put myself in that position and I strictly limit my contact with her. My mom can laugh off my aunt’s tendency towards that, but I just can’t.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06729516870952658426 Audrey

    I certainly know people who are like this, and you are right–it is so incredibly wearing to attempt to converse with them. Know that I am aware of this, though, I am going to be extra vigilant to see that I don’t act that way!

  • Ago

    I have two family members (dad and mom’s mom) and one friend from college who do this exact thing. I’m so glad you’re exploring this because I do think it’s real. I think a lot of it has to do with rejecting whoever they’re speaking to/deliberately severing a connection in the moment.

    I agree with many of the other comments here that it has a great deal to do with dominance/control and insecurity, but  I’ve also noticed it when my dad or grandma interact casually with new acquaintances (they’re OCS with nearly everyone, but I’m always surprised when they do it with non-family members). BUT I have noticed that if someone is important to them (not in terms of loved ones, but utility), they will be obliging and agree with EVERYTHING that person says regardless of their (often contradictory) previously stated beliefs. The blatant hypocrisy — while nauseating to witness — may be separate from OCS in general, but it’s significant in my observations of them because their default mode is OCS and they only “turn on” the pleasantries when they need something. The rest of the time they rely on OCS to alienate everyone in the conversation.

    I also don’t think they realize they are doing it. Both my dad and grandma believe they are being witty or charming or clever and when they are pleasant for a purpose, they congratulate themselves on being sly or successful. They have no idea they are being overbearingly contrary, and if anyone points it out, they become very defensive. (I would then also caution about which OCS types you talk to about this. Clearly my 2 family members have a lot of underlying issues that are paired with this less than stellar style, but I think OCS in general probably signals some unhappy emotions.)

  • Becci

    My significant other pointed this out to me a few years ago. It didn’t take much to convince me that he was accurate…especially when I remembered the quote next to my name in my eighth grade annual. “There is only one right way. Mine!” Anyhow, today I am aware of my contrary thoughts before speaking them. But, I still like a good back and forth conversation. I’m just more careful about how I set it up.  Here is what I struggle with…people who become stone faced and silent when you gently suggest an alternative. Or ask if they have considered looking at it this way. What is that all about? Is it me crossing the line? I have some friends who often respond this way. It makes me shut down as fast as they shut down. Doesn’t friendship include good well-rounded, honest conversations? 

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, whether or not is SHOULD work, if that strategy means that people frequently want to shut down, it seems like it’s not working.
      It also may not be about tone, but about frequency.

  • http://profiles.google.com/gaidigt Gaidig Traon

    Another aspect of OCS is the reaction of the person who is on the receiving end.  I find that certain people take any difference of opinion as an argument, so if they say, “X is important,” and I say, “Right, but don’t forget about Y.  You’ve got to factor that in too,” they get upset and defensive.  In my experience, voicing opposing points of view is taken as belligerent in America in a way that it is not in other places I have lived.

    I don’t know if I have OCS (if it exists).  Certainly, I am often supportive of other people’s point of view, but I am generally not afraid to voice a differing perspective.  I don’t think one should be oppositional or supportive just because.  I think one should express one’s actual point of view on the subject.

    • Resaztrain

      I agree with you on this– sometimes it seems like just having a different opinion is seen as ‘mouthing off’! 

  • http://www.workingmystic.com/ Nneka, Working Mystic

    Hi Gretchen, my name is Nneka and I have OCS:-)

    I do this all the time. I argue for the opposite. It causes me to look at the full picture. For the other folks in the conversation, it feels like verbal sparring. When I’m aware of it, I do it internally.

    I don’t practice OCS because I want to be right. I just want to know what the other thought feels like. I even do it with myself. I’m a Libra, so maybe that has something to do with it.

    What do you make of that?

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, it depends on how much you care how others react.

  • Kara

    Is there a way to be OCS for the sake of wanting to oppose, but not care if you are ” right”? My husband regularly and unitentionally uses this as his conversation style. If I ask him to do something or have a question he responds with a question or a non committal opposing remark. I point it out to him and he regroups with a better response, but his ingrained system wants to oppose with out committing to a view.

  • Patience

    My father is like that.  I don’t think he realizes it at all.  I do believe that for him it’s a demonstration of assertiveness – sort of an alpha male kind of thing.  It’s wearisome.  I, and others, just work to avoid having conversations with him in the first place.

  • Anna

    This happens to me an awful lot. The conclusion I’ve come to is that many people want to play ‘Devil’s Advocate’ as though this somehow marks them out as being extremely well-balanced and fair-minded. I find it pompous and patronising in the extreme and sometimes downright upsetting. 

  • http://www.sweetandsage.com Sage

    Oh my gosh, these people are so annoying! I can’t be around people who are contrary just to be contrary. Really, what’s the point in contradicting everything a person says? Does it make them feel smart/important?

    I’ve called people out on their behavior, and it usually makes them stop once they realize that others find it rude.

  • Emmy

    I absolutely recognize OCS! In other people and (unfortunately) occasionally myself. I’d have to really think about patterns I’ve observed in others before commenting on that, but I know when I use OCS myself (which isn’t often), it’s because I’m annoyed with the person I’m talking to. I -HATE- it when people make unfounded assumptions about me and/or insult my intelligence. For example, the last time I can remember that I used OCS was in a conversation with someone to whom I had recently been introduced. She immediately began making assumptions about why I prefer e-mailing to coordinate meeting times rather than calling on the phone, why I dislike certain activities, etc. I objected to her pontificating to me about me and my personality when she had only known me for 20 minutes while I have known me my entire life. ;o) It didn’t take long for me to disagree with everything she said, partly as a defense mechanism, I suppose, and partly because I thought maybe it would annoy her into leaving the conversation. I’m not sure she ever noticed.

    I will say, though, that while I am aware that I do occasionally use OCS in conversation, I’m not usually aware of it at the time. I usually realize it afterwards and regret it. I know it’s not very mature, and it’s certainly not pleasant for anyone involved (the person I’m talking to, me, or anyone within earshot).

    Just as a side note, in situations like the one I’ve described here, OCS is not my only response — I sometimes shut down (resort to merely nodding in reply to whatever the other person is saying). I’m not sure when or why I choose to apply either conversational “strategy” — I’m inclined to believe it depends on who the other person is and whether I think I have a shot of “besting” them in conversational combat.

    • Emmy

       I just read Lisa Cochrane’s comment down the page about “feel the power of my words” and wanting to be heard, and I think that explains very well why I do this. I think I use OCS (or shut down) when I feel like I’m not being heard or like I’m not going to be heard if I express my true thoughts.

  • Julia

    Sorry, that’s me.

    I suppose I tend to have OCS – but mostly with topics that don’t matter and people I enjoy talking to.  Arguments last longer than agreements, you see. 

    On the other hand, my sister once called it playing devil’s advocate – I can argue both sides of just about any case.  I try to use this skill to settle real disagreements among my siblings.  She always hated because sometimes she just wants to vent and does not want to hear the other side. 

    But with somebody I enjoy talking to, on a topic that doesn’t really matter, I’m sometimes argumentative just to prolong the discussion – if I’m having fun I want to continue.  If I want to get rid of someone, I’ll agree with them fairly quickly.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is an interesting point. OCS is a fun way to have a conversation, for you. Do others seem to find it fun?

      • ocsfamily

        Only if agreed upon by both parties

  • Peninith1

    Of course this OCS thing is really awful in the age of political divisiveness. I can remember one Lent when I decided that I would give up opinions and not express my opinion about ANYTHING for 40 days. Naturally, I did not quite succeed, but it sure helped me to recognize that tendency I have to launch a good shot without thinking whether it will be cruel, sarcastic, or just disagreeable. Very helpful and interesting post and the discussion has been wildly terrific!!!!

    • Harvey Meredith

      I would be interested in any long-term benefits to you as a result of such an eminently supportable sacrifice.

  • Ohey

    I’ve noticed that when I’m at a particuliar low point or feeling depressed, I do this. And ever since I noticed it, I’m just like UGH, I hate being that person.

    I’ve tried to think about WHY I do/did that. I think in a way, it was to fell smarter, more important, or better about myself. 

    • Ohey

      but to add to that — I don’t do it nearly as much anymore. And when I truly agree with someone, I make sure to poitn that out and go down that path of conversation rather than just rebute rebute rebute.

  • http://www.susies-coupons.com/office.htm Jamie

    Fascinating. I have a friend who does this ALL the time. I, too, am so interested in her tendency to disagree with every single thing I say – and I’ve been watching her lately to see if it’s just me who brings this out in her. (It’s not). I think it tends to go hand-in-hand with her critical nature. It’s hard for her not to point out things that she feels could be better, and now I think it has become a conversational habit. On good days, I see it as an interesting personality quirk, and I can deal with it. On bad days, I have to admit that I avoid her.

  • genavieve

    I recognize this tendency, especially in my 15 year old. I expect it from him, though, as part of his growing up and differentiation process. 

    I belong to a group that communicates almost strictly by email. We’re a closed group and have been doing this for coming up on eight years. There’s one woman in the group who ALWAYS communicates this way with me and it drives me insane, so much so that I avoid responding to her posts anymore. It’s just not worth the hassle. 

    It’s something that I try to be aware of in my exchanges with others. I have a Masters’ in counseling, so my tendency is to try to draw others out, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I can be reactionary. 

    Gretchen, I think you hit the nail on the head in recognizing the tone that’s used. For some, being oppositional is their way of playing the Devil’s advocate; it’s one mechanism for moving a conversation along. For others, it’s really a passive aggressive response to a situation where they don’t feel comfortable or in control. By taking a verbal stand, it’s a way of saying, “Cross this line of death at your own peril.” Is it a mature and effective way to communicate? That’s debatable…but then that would be OCS. :)

  • Resaztrain

    I have been the person with OCS and the one on the receiving end many a time. There are two things I do to combat it. When I am the one disagreeing with everything or finding the opposite point of view (even if I don’t personally believe it), I notice there comes a point when the other person begins to get exasperated or frustrated, and I turn the conversation over to them by asking a question about a topic they like or current events, etc. I don’t have to disagree if I am asking for information. Then I look at why i am acting like this and try to change going forward.

    When someone is practicing their OCS on me, however, I choose to stop engaging in the conversation. A lot of times these conversations have a kind of rhythm, and when they continue saying contradictory things that, while possibly true, still leave me feeling blunted and annoyed, I simply stop. Usually not responding to their big, emphatic statements with a follow-up question or a rebuttal, just nodding or making a non-commital mmm will sort of startle the person out of their self-involved personal rants.

    Keeping the idea of BOTH AND instead of NO BUT in mind is super helpful to me. Also I have begun to believe that if a conversation is a way of connecting, OCSers either don’t want to connect with me, don’t want to connect with anyone, don’t know how to connect, or believe that combativeness is the kind of connection that best suits their style of personal relationships. And that is a choice, but not one I have to live with.

    • Natalie

       I agree completely with your method of dealing with OCS-ers. Just moving on to a new topic, to a new person in the group, or doing the ol’ smile and nod. I find that many of my lawyer friends engage in OSC, either because law school taught them to always take the contrary view or because they view agreement is a sign of weakness. I wish they would only put “being agreeable” above “being right” sometimes.

    • deviousasti

      So you either switch the topic when it becomes unfavorable or just stop talking? That doesn’t seem very fair.

  • Anthony Francis

    I’ve noticed this in a few other people. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. However, other times it goes over the edge of being a “style” and becomes actually wrong – where someone contradicts you but actually ends up restating your point in their own words which only sound different. These conversations go something like this:

    Me: X.
    OG: No, really what is going on isn’t not X.
    Me: Um, but then do you mean not X or X?
    OG: No, you’re not getting it. I’m saying X.

    Note the latter response isn’t even coherent – the correct responses to “A or Not-A” are A, Not A and MU. Rather than put up with this, I correct people. (Note this only works with people who say “No” but mean “Yes” and not with people who say “No” and mean “No,” whether in genuine disagreement or pure orneriness). The conversations go something like this:

    Me: X
    OG: No, really what is going on isn’t not X.
    Me: {confirming} Let me make sure I understood that: you’re saying isn’t not X, that is, X.
    OG: {No/Yes}, what I was saying is {X/not not X}.
    Me: {sure I got it} Then the correct first word in your response to my initial statement isn’t “No”, but “Yes”, because you were saying “X” … and that’s what I said in the first place.

    Almost always when I’ve got a clear enough grip on the conversation to know that I’m right to say “The correct first word in your response should have been Yes…” the other person blinks or stares off into the distance, thinks a second, and then goes, “Oh, you’re right”. And then we go on to have a better conversation – maybe not an agreement, but perhaps with some lesser amount of unnecessary contradictions.

    That makes me think for some people it’s just a conversational style that can be fixed. For other people there’s a desperate need to correct or refine the other person so their perspective is the superior one. For this second group of people, you just have to disengage if they’re hostile, and if they’re not just smile, nod, and try to grok what they’re saying and try not to take it personally.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! This is so annoying. Being contradicted with a point that you actually made yourself.

  • Andrea

    I work with a guy who does this.  What particularly bothers me is that he will contradict ANYTHING  I say, even when I say something that is purely my own opinion — like he knows how I feel better than I do!  (“I like dark chocolate better than milk chocolate.” “No, you like milk chocolate!”)  I have always wondered if he realizes he is being so contrary.  Sounds like it is a common problem.

  • Craig

    Not intending to practice OCS now, but I think the real dichotomy is whether the person perceives themselves as a student or as a teacher in the conversation. Those who think of themselves as teachers (I have a friend who does) believe that their statements are not subject to disagreement. To argue or debate or counter their statements is tantamount to OCS. In other words, only one person is allowed to make a statement, while the other can not.

    • Deane

      This is a very interesting point. My mother-in-law strongly believes strongly she is the teacher and everyone else is the student (whether or not anyone actually wants to learn….) and this is her sole method of conversation. It’s to the point that no one will converse with her, even her own husband.  I find that I can stand being with her only if I mentally prepare myself, but it’s just exhausting. She absolutely closes down every conversation she has. She’s so busy being right, she can’t see that she’s only teaching by negative example.

  • http://www.drpauladurlofsky.com/ Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D.

    You shed light on a behavior some do when they feel defensive. Unfortunately some people feel defensive ALL the time and therefore it is hard to have positive and constructive conversations with them.  Through my work I have found that what is underneath most “oppositional” behaviors is the fear of being vulnerable and an irrational fear of “being taking advantage of”. The good news is that this behavior can definitely be changed and once issues are resolved people are “happier” and enjoy more intimate and satisfying relationships.
    -Paula

    “Thing Matters”
    http://www.drpauladurlofsky.blogspot.com  

    • ocsfamily

      This is getting to the depth of the behavior. It’s not simply liking to debate.

  • Jenn

    I, unfortunately, can be “OCS” at times.  I’m not sure if it depends what kind of mood I’m in or the person I’m speaking with, but one of my “projects” is to think before I speak and think about how it makes the other person feel.  I want to be a person that others want to be around.  When I’ve had a conversation with a person with “OCS”, I walk away.  Funny how quickly I judged another when I’ve had the tendency to do the same thing!

  • Woe is me

    I will occasionally (read: more often that I care to admit) find myself disagreeing with family and close friends. I heap most of the blame on my background in mathematics and computer science: I may disagree on technicalities or the phrasing of the argument, even when I agree with the premise.

    Alternatively, when I’m with co-workers or not-so-close friends, I tend to agree fairly quickly because I’m extremely uncomfortable with verbal confrontations.

  • Emma Miya

    OMG!!!! this TOTALLY exists!!! and YES, it is very tiresome!!! the people that I know that do it… I don’t think they realize they do it. But, it is annoying and honestly… I just avoid them. I do love a good debate, too. Equally, I don’t like people that agree with everything, just to be liked or ‘fit in’. 
    But, I think you are on to something here. haha I think there are many types of OCS. I think some people are just d@cks. and some people are just totally oblivious to it. 

  • D.P.K.

     I have been following all of the comments with interest as this is a huge issue for me with someone in my life.  It’s at the point where I don’t want to be around him at all because of this, and despite my pointing it out time and again, he can’t seem to NOT do it. 

    But what is especially fascinating about this thread is that this is clearly a relatively common thing.  It’s rather reassuring to realize that others encounter, and struggle with, how to deal with the OCS speaker!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m amazed by how readily people recognize this pattern. I thought I was perceiving some rare, subtle thing – from the comments, it’s clear this is a major issue that drives people nuts!

  • Erica_JS

    I think #1 is a cultural thing, while #2 may be more of a power move.  I once heard the contrast between French and American politeness at the dinner table explained as “Americans think it’s polite to go along and not argue.  French people show that they are really listening and taking you seriously as a conversation partner by engaging with your ideas and playing devil’s advocate.  If they just said ‘yes, yes, sure,’ another French person would think they were being blown off and dismissed.”

    • gretchenrubin

      I think there’s a real difference between a substantive disagreement about ideas and constant correction about passing remarks. Or taking the opposite view so consistently that it seems unrelated to the content of a statement.

      • theworkindallas

        OCS is NOT about cultural definitions of politeness and the dinner table. OCS is a need, in any conversation, even when there are NOT facts to be argued, to assert yourself as differentiated from the other person. It can be as simple as inserting one simple statement of contradiction when someone shares their truth, their experience, their heart. My truth, my experience, my heart are not arguable material. OCS people see THOSE items as arguable. That’s the problem. Agreed upon debate yes, passionate debate yes, dinner table devil’s advocate, yes, but watch when OCSers tread on another’s heart.

        It IS about connection and OCS people have a need to break connection. Just watch the deflation in the person you are OCSing. Watch the broken connection and look for why that would be important to you. What belief is operating? I am a certified facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie which looks at stressful thoughts and beliefs. What is your belief when you are practicing OCS behavior?

  • CL

    Oh my gosh.  That is — was — me.  I didn’t realize I was doing that until someone pointed out, and then I was like, yeah, you’re right.  I do take the opposite point of view most of the time.  I enjoy analyzing, almost to a fault, and by taking the other side of an issue, I was able to analyze WITH somebody.  Of course, once it was pointed out that it was annoying, I totally got it and stopped doing it.  Perhaps another reason was that I’m not the best conversationalist, and setting up a debate I was able to be more conversational.  While I still enjoy a debate, I don’t take the “other side” just for the sake of it.  I appreciated that someone was willing to point out this tendency and bring it to my awareness. 

  • Polly

    My sister is like this, which can be extremely frustrating.   She will contradict almost any observation I may make, however straightforward it may seem on the surface.   She has a lot going on in her life, lots of troubles, so I just let her carry on with her style.  I don’t think she will ever change (a friend and I were discussing this yesterday, she knows my sister) but if it makes her feel better to feel that she is better than me, then fine, as God knows she needs all the help she can get at the moment.

  • Fervent Life

    I agree with you Gretchen. It is a very taxing experience particularly when you are facing it on a daily basis. Everyday, I am constantly thinking of ways to avoid such conversations with the OCS type because I am working with one. And I have to try to keep the conversation going.

    I was quite taken aback when I first realized it. I am a debative person, and I love to debate, positively when it adds life to conversations. With them, I was like sucked into oppositional conversations without realizing it myself. and I was countered with “could you not disagree so much?” when it was the other way round.

    Finally, I realized that no matter what I say it would just be negatively reacted to, so I just let the conversation dropped. We don’t always have to be right to win the conversation.

  • Bette

    I think I am perceived as having OCS when, in reality, I simply feel compelled to correct errors of fact in others’ thinking. I easily accept others’ opinions and thoughts—but wrong facts drive me nuts! As an INTJ, I’m pretty much wired for factual accuracy…but, in order to have a happy marriage and loving friends, I’m working on letting others have their own style! LOL!

  • Debbie

    Oh Yes, I’ve encountered it. You are certainly not alone!!! I realize now, after reading your blog, that it is one of the reasons why I don’t spend as much time with a really good friend as I would like. I view it as such negative behavior. Always seeing the glass half empty. Always having to be contrary to be part of the conversation. It’s tiring and not fun. 

  • Faith

    great topic! it is leading me to think of many conversational styles. and as you always say gretchen, once you can name something it is so much easier to deal with it.  i think people in the comments are confusing 3 different styles – negative types (no i didnt have a good time at the concert, it was hot, crowded  and the bass was off)  and ,  asperger/truth seeker types (actually honey, its was in 73, we were driving the chevy and we sold the chevy at the end of 73 so it couldntve been in 74) and OCS who seem compelled to prove you wrong/ play devils advocate/ prove themselves superior.  OCS are impossible one on one, but not as bad in a group situation if there is a passifier/moderator type personality who can say, oh how interesting, i can see how you found the movie fascinating since you love frogs, and how it mustve been boring for you since frogs arent your thing.  i will try very hard to be less OCS (i think i feel compelled to do that when i find myself talking to a knowitall type) and to be more of a moderator, they are so pleasant to put around, i have a friend who can put me in my place in the most pleasant way.  no one wants to be backed into a corner,  i will try, like her, to leave others with  an escape route.

  • http://twitter.com/LadyAntonym Lady Antonym

    So I have a question – why do you insist that someone who finds it important to be precise and specific in their understanding of the world abandon that in order to fit your idea of politeness, when doing so causes them distress?

    We had an HR seminar on personality types in the workplace.  There were four – I don’t remember the cutesy names – but the two we are talking about here are social and analytic.  One type sees conversation as a way of building social connection, the other as a way of jointly solving problems.

    So, yeah, this is why my moniker is Lady Antonym.  And I guess my question is “Why do you insist on being wrong?  And why do I have to pretend that you are right?”  The HR lady admitted that  our current model of “everybody getting along” meant that analytics ended up being the people who weren’t able to be themselves and often end up being shut out of the conversation, even though they were correct about the situation.  Which is a problem in the workplace.  You are here on the internet, on your computer, because analytic minds exists.  So using it to discuss how you wish OCS people would just quit being themselves already is kind of funny.

    So, tell me, how should I deal with someone who demands that I back down on what I know is true, so that they can remain within their social comfort zone?  It feels like bullying on both sides.  My advice – at least sometimes notice what the OCS person is pointing out.  You didn’t see it.  They did.  Learn to appreciate it.  I really like this blog and your book and find them helpful.  But it is painful when the advice offered is basically to cut people like me out of your life.

    • Peninith1

      Advice that I took years ago which may help you to flex your approach a little and yet stand your own internal ground. When my teenage son had gotten himself so upset that he was briefly hospitalized, a counselor said to the three of us (my ex, my son, and me) that everything in a relationship with another person simply had to be 50-50. Now, I knew that my ex HAD to be mostly in the wrong–after all, he was the one who had chosen a ‘deviant’ lifestyle, wasn’t he? It was patently obvious to me. However, for the sake of my son, I pretended to myself that he had 50% of the truth at least 50% of the time. Gosh, I discovered that he really did see things that I didn’t, and had points to make that I needed to accept if we were to move forward in our fractured – family way. Thus, in even the most sensitive of situations, I learned that ‘being right’ really made no difference, and that sharing views of reality did.

    • Resaztrain

      Lady Antonym, I agree with the heart of what you’re saying. The truth is it’s painful to have a conversation with someone I care about and hear factual inaccuracy. At work it can mean the difference between getting an account or losing it, so I feel compelled to speak up. 

      However, I have also felt the pain of someone constantly correcting me, especially in matters of opinion, and have felt rejected by that person. To me, the conversation is about both sociability and learning/sharing ideas. I feel there are two different arguments here, and because each personality type is approaching the situation from a different perspective, conflict arises and blocks us from each other. One of our most basic human needs is to connect. Some people feel that more strongly in an information kind of way. Having the same set of facts helps us feel in touch with humanity. Others feel that need for connection in a more emotional or social way. Hearing agreeable words and sharing eye contact helps us feel we are being heard and appreciated. 

      I think both these types of connection are possible within the same conversation. I read a book on how to talk so people will listen when I realized that my OCS, however well-intentioned, had begun to push people out of my life. I found that using specific phrases helps others connect with what I said instead of immediately shutting it out. Simple things like repeating back what someone else has said then going on to my own point helps people feel they are being heard, even if they are actually incorrect. Instead of saying no at the beginning of a sentence, I just began the sentence. If the body of what I’m saying is a clarification, I put “Yes, that makes sense, and…” 

      These types of conversations are difficult at first, but with practice I have begun to be heard. I don’t feel that I’m the sole voice of reason shouting into the wind anymore. And I have learned from others as well– that I enjoy the sense of social connection that comes from a lively, respectful conversation. One of the other comments stated that there are actually three types of people that we’re talking about, and I say that each of those conversations and motives are separate but use the same language. By changing my language, I am able to have my content be heard, and still maintain good friendships in my life.

      • D.P.K.

         I am in a women’s group led by a therapist, and a while back we talked about this very issue.  The issue was  about how to deal with OCS conversations — which we didn’t discuss with that term, she called it “challenges.”  And we talked about the issue in terms of trying to move past the “challenge” style to the meaning below the challenge. 

        For example,
        You:  I think blue is a lovely color.
        Challenger:  Oh, blue is so boring!  Red is so much more exciting! ‘
        You:  Really?  Why do you think blue is boring?
        Challenger: It just is.  Red is stronger, has more energy.
        You:  Well, I see what you mean about red — but I like blue anyway.
        Challenger: It’s so common.
        You:  Does it bother you that you and I don’t like the same color? …

        The theory was to look at WHY the other person insists on discounting or dismissing or correcting what you said, so you learn to a) hold your own opinion and not immediately back away b) pursue the CONNECTION in the interaction versus the content

        It makes sense to me, sort of, but I find it very hard to do.  Obviously, this sort of effort is worth while if it’s a person important to you.  But when I’ve tried this on the OCS person in my household, I do find that it makes him aware that he’s disagreeing or dismissing what I’ve said, and it almost always reveals that his “disagreement” was a knee-jerk thing and not really even about what we were talking about.

        I guess if the goal is to figure out how to deal with an OCS person FOR YOURSELF (versus change the OCS person) then this strategy could give you a way of not feeling dismissed, of holding to your own opinion and not retreating from the dynamic all the time.

        • Resaztrain

          This is a pretty great way of diffusing the situation without backing down! I think I’ll try it myself sometime :o)

    • ali

      I definitely agree with what you’re saying — I too can be a stickler for facts and what’s “correct”, and I don’t mind saying “hmm, I can see your point. I actually believe this, for reasons xyz. what do you think?”  I know you mentioned how conversation is either a way of building a social connection, or a way to solve problems, but I think that the two can overlap, and that they also can be used separately in different circumstances. During the course of a dinner conversation with someone I don’t know well, I could make several comments that are just to build rapport, and also make several that are to actually share info/solve a problem/elicit info. I don’t see it as so black and white I guess.

      I think what Gretchen is talking about is more for casual conversation, when people are just trying to make a connection of sorts — situations where parts of conversation are said ONLY to make a social connection, not to solve a problem or share information. I don’t think this post was referring to silencing all disagreements (especially in circumstances, like work, where it’s imperative to speak up if you believe something isn’t done right). For example, let’s say you and I are out to eat, and our food has just arrived.  I take a bite and say, “mmm, I love their lasagna!”.  You hate this particular restaurant’s lasagna.  How would you respond to my statement of opinion about how much I enjoy their lasagna? Would you say, “oh, no it’s not any good.  I hate it”,  or would you say, “I’m so glad you like it.  my chicken parm is amazing too”.  I think you’d probably say the latter, since  there’s really no reason to contradict me to be “correct”.   If you feel like it’s important/appropriate to mention your dislike of the lasagna, you could say “oh it’s gross. I never get it”, or you could say “I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’m not a huge fan, but I’m loving this chicken parm! would you like to try some?”.  One response stifles conversation/rapport, the other promotes it –even though in both you’ve let me know you don’t like the lasagna! See what I mean? Now, of course there are other situations where offering an opposing idea can strengthen a conversation and add some depth.  And as others have mentioned, it’s often how you say it that matters when disagreeing with someone.  Does that make sense? This is how I see it at least.  

      ps sorry this is so long!

    • Anne

      I’ve had conversations where I’ve been “corrected” by someone when I’m an expert in the field and they’re not. Oh, and subsequently, they’ve denied they said what they did, because it was so obviously erroneous. Maddening.

      • brando

        Yes. Yes. Three Times Yes. I felt like you were writing my exact thoughts.

    • Ago

      Hi!

      I think accuracy is not the enemy here. To be precise, there needs to be a distinction between the type of conversational style Gretchen brought up and the personality type you’re describing:

      1. The conversational style is about being contrary for the sake of being contrary/always upholding the opposite opinion or providing a negation of that opinion. Sometimes, that negation manifests in a technical correction (eg. one poster said her family left a half hour ago and her daughter corrected it as 23 minutes ago).

      2. So, an analytically minded person could be contrary or a contrary reaction could be couched in analytic/precise terms, but the essence of the interaction isn’t necessarily about meaningful correction, but an “in-your-face” comment.

      3. It’s kind of like all oranges are fruit, but not all fruit are oranges. OCS-ers could be analytically-bent, but that’s not really the issue. The potentially frustrating conversational style examined here is not about being corrected to improve rational understanding of a given thing with inaccurate conversationalists feeling bad about it, but an irrational need to say “no” in as many ways as possible.

      I don’t think you’re wrong about the way exacting minds can be treated. That’s not fair and can hurt peoples feelings/curtail their interactions. I do think your justified frustration with that situation may be focusing on only one element of various posters’ issues listed here, making it easy to ignore the point about how annoying it is to have a stilted, perhaps circuitous conversation.

      Anywho, definitely did not write any of the above in “angry tone”/definitely in “good intention” mode here. :)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RYKQV654UCTVSPZ5DTVQUDHUWU BrianP

      I’ve known several people who had a deep, I would even say destructive, need to be right. To me the issue is ‘is this an argument worth having the the first place’? If I’m wrong about who starred in a TV show, and you know you’re right, is it worth arguing about it? Is it worth ruining good conversation? Is it worth spoiling a friendship?

      I understand your aversion to a “Why do you insist on being wrong?  And why do I have to pretend that you are right?” scenario. In some cases that’s a great attitude to take. If you’re very passionate about the issue or it actually affects your life in some tangible way, then yes, speak up. The problem I have with a “I always have to point out your every mistake” attitude is that too often the issue is petty and has no affect on the people involved beyond the negative impact of the argument that spawns from it. There’s nothing to be gained other than the satisfaction you feel by being right. And really, what’s that worth? So why debate something petty?

      • Golond

         Being one of those people you’re talking to, I can’t help but respond in order to give a glimpse from the other side of the table. In my world factual correctness rules supreme. I can’t continue in a conversation based on information I know to be incorrect. In my book the conversation is already ruined, and can’t be continued until the groundwork is fixed. It’s not an issue of “I’ve got to be right”, its an issue of “I can’t bear that your view of the world isn’t based in reality.” I honestly don’t care who starred in which TV show. It isn’t worth arguing about. Whoever it is you’re arguing with might not really care either. A “maybe I’m wrong, I’ll look it up later.” response from you may be all your conversation partner needs to have their world put back on its axis. If they push the matter, and it really is inconsequential, then there may be deeper power struggle issues at hand.

      • Xyla Stevens-Pope

        To argue over facts in any discussion is, in my opinion, utterly worthless.

        One should simply look up the needed fact, and then proceed with the discussion.
        I immediately cease participation in any such pointless absurdity.

        It is never worth the harm done to a good conversation, and is absolutely unworthy of damage to a friendship.

    • deviousasti

      You can’t have well meaning social connections with everyone. You can either change your strategy or associate with people who have similar conversational styles. 

      Your perception that refusal to participate in a confrontational conversation as bullying itself says that you feel like you’re being prosecuted because people won’t allow you to engage in your behavior.

    • olrac

      I think you’re talking about something different. This isn’t so much about refusing to concede when you think you’re right (I won’t say “know” because too often a person is certain he’s correct, but isn’t). It’s about being a contrarian just for the sake of argument.

    • dwhets

      The point that is missing here is that you lose all effectiveness if you have been too tied up in your own little world of facts to find points of agreement where they exist (without your special consideration having been bestowed), and after that you just become a colleague with a problem personality instead of someone on the team who has special anyalytic skills to apply to problems. That “disagreeing with everyone on everything” deal puts you in a class you don’t really wish to join. Believe me, many of us were high school debaters, have strong analytical skills, and feel strongly about “getting the facts right,” but if you don’t seek and acknowledge common understandings where they exist, you lose relevance. The choice of the “right battle” is what this is all about. This is what makes you valuable to everyone around you, including business situations!

      • ocsfamily

        Agree. Nicely written

    • Truth seeker

      Could a person be both analytical and social? Is it always a black and white situation of “I’m either this or that?” People with OCS aren’t always right or wrong, just as people without OCS aren’t either. To ask a question based on an assumption that OCS personalities are engaged in discussions with other parties who always insist on being wrong, is a display of self-serving bias. It may be true at times, but not all of the time.

      No one has to pretend someone else is right or wrong. There is a time and a place for everything. I think in order to have a friendly conversation, sometimes you need to destroy your ego a little. Do you have to point out every time when someone is wrong? Do you have to point out every time when you disagree with someone? Do you have to sit back every time and let someone else spout out fallacies or lies? Do you have to keep quiet and not voice your opinion. Of course not, but things should be done in consideration of both parties. It’s the ego behind people’s actions that kill conversations. I definitely think SOME people with OCS are deeply insecure and just don’t want to let things go. I also think people who LOOK TO CONTRADICT viewpoints in a conversation every time, really need to consider the person or people they are talking to, what they are going to achieve from this, and how the other person or people will feel as a result of intentional contradiction. In a group of my 5 closest friends, 1 of our friends has OCS personality. My other 3 friends without OCS and myself get exhausted when we bring up conversations with this guy because he has to take an opposing side EVERY TIME. I’m not kidding. This is why I am here on this site. To get more insight on the issue. I have even provided him evidence in books where he was wrong, and he would still debate it. My other friend even witnessed it. So no, people with OCS are definitely not always right, and I wouldn’t even say most of the time. They might think so.

      We told our friend how it made us feel, and he said we are just as much to blame, because it takes two to argue. That’s B.S., because he is the one contradicting topics that we bring up, not the other way around. He is an instigator.

      I don’t think the advice from this article is to cut people out of their lives, but to bring the attention to people with OCS, and the negative effect it has on others around you. (in this case the negatives greatly outweigh the positives) In the case of my friend, i find it hard to believe that we are all wrong, and that he is the only one who is in the right. That’s laughable. It seems like a borderline narcissistic personality disorder.

  • maxi

    Oh Boy, do I do this!  Now that you describe it so well, I realize  it is totally about wanting to assert dominance and control when I feel powerless.

    Sometimes it is over a person who is so genuinely and irritatingly domineering and overly-opinionated that  I totally want to wipe out whatever they might have to say. This is  exhausting and brings out the worst in me.  I try to avoid people who bring this out in me – just walk away…

    Other times it is someone whom I perceive as threatening me psychically in some way – like my mother in law who was such a negative person and carried her own black cloud wherever she went. I was was afraid of her infecting me and at some level felt I had to “combat it”.  Yeah this was lose-lose for both of us.

    Sadly, I also see I  have used it  as a passive aggressive technique against people  whom I love and I am powerless to change and (of course) still want to.  Overlap with the above but isn’t so much out of fear as anger.

    I have tried to work on it when with loved ones.  When I catch myself saying “NO, but…” to start every sentence I consciously switch to “Yes…and” and strive to find common ground. Even better is to accept them as they are.

    Thank you for bringing the pattern up.  So insightful and valuable to look at.

  • Heath2004

    I could argue for X or Y .. I like to bring balance to a debate especially when engaging in a conversation where someone holds a very strong opinion.

  • Maryl

    Such a fascinating topic! 

    For an expert academic’s perspective, check out the brilliant Georgetown linguist Deborah Tannen’s lecture series, the Sociolinguisitics of Everyday Conversation. (Lecture 7: Listenership: Conversation as  Joint Production, and Lecture 8: Agonism: Programmed Contientiousness, Ritualized Opposition.)  They are available on iTunes.

    She has also writtten number of books about communication written for a general audience.

    • Maryl

      Whoops!  Sorry about rushed sloppiness.  That should have been  ‘Agonism: Programmed Contentiousness,’ etc,  and ‘She has also written a number of  books about communication for a general audience.’

  • Janine

    OMG this is my mother to a T. She does this constantly and has all of my life and YES it is extremely wearying. It feels to me that she must always put me in my place, no matter what. Either she disagrees directly with what I’m saying, or she turns my opinion into fodder for an unfavorable character assessment.  

  • Kat

    I do recognize this behavior. Now, I have a name for what my friend does in the majority of our conversations. It can be very aggravating and exhausting. In fact, I find I spend less and less time with her because of it. I’m inclined to think jealousy may be the root of the behavior. The worst part is when you are very excited about something that you have discovered or have accomplished and you want to share it with everyone, and this type of person trys to deflate you with their contradictions or the reasons it is not so great. Blah!

    I understand everyone is entitled to their opinion; however, your opinion should not be a mood killer or deflate another person. Even if I am not gung-ho about something, I either keep my opinion to myself, especially if I am not directly asked my opinion, or I try to say something positive. A conversation should be enjoyable, not a competition.

    • Classical

      Yes, I have had this oppositional conversational style experience with a person exactly as you describe. It felt like every conversation was a battle, and it was so exhausting. I would share a great experience or successful moment at school or at work, and then the battle would be begin on how it could be improved, or changed, or seen in a different light. It was as if you were constantly being judged, or corrected. At first, I thought perhaps I was unconsciously baiting, or challenging this person in tone, or that I was somehow inviting constant rhetoric but it was _always_ happening with him that I realized it was not me — it was just his style. It may have been acute defensiveness (as the other poster detailed) but despite trying to resolve it, it just never improved and I had to step away. 

      It was difficult because the very part of his personality that made him interesting — the analytical mind, the intellect, the energy — made the conversation eventually intolerable, as well. 

      Thanks for the interesting topic, Gretchen!

  • ali

    Oh my gosh, I feel like a lightbulb just went on over my head. Thank you so much for this post! My boyfriend’s mother does this ALL
    the time, & I too, often feel patronized and defensive. It gives the whole
    interaction an icky feeling, at least on my end. I couldn’t put my finger on
    what exactly she was doing that was bothering me so much, but this hits the
    nail right on the head. My strategy is just to sit mutely and listen to her talk, which seems to suit her. When I do make comments, she either totally ignores them, interrupts and talks over me on a completely unrelated topic, or gives an OCS response. Yeah, she’s a lot of fun to be around. :( 

    I like your idea of asking people why they’re doing it.
    I wish I had the gumption to ask her, but I don’t think she realizes that she’s
    doing it or that it can seem rude (I’m hoping… I don’t like the alternative). I hope you’re able to post a follow up to this after you’ve had a
    chance to ask people about why they do it.

    I haven’t
    noticed this quality as much in other people — maybe because I’m able to
    politely leave the conversation quickly with others, while with her I’m not
    able to leave. I’ll have to pay closer attention in conversations now. I do
    have a friend that constantly forces you to defend a statement; I think that
    also maybe is a kind of OCS.  He
    will ask, “well WHY” to everything in an aggressive way. It’s exhausting.

    Another reason
    I’m so glad for this post is that by recognizing exactly what it is in others’
    conversational styles that upsets me, I can try harder to avoid doing those
    things myself. I have social anxiety and I’m constantly trying to improve my
    interactions with others. I love how your blog helps me to be more self-aware!
    (sorry for the gushing! I’ve never commented before today)

    • ali

      oh no — I don’t know what happened to the margins/spacing! sorry!

  • http://megstermeter.wordpress.com/ Meghan

    I find that I do this in an arguement situation – as in, if I feel like I’m being accused, I not only get defensive, but I need to make sure the other person knows that they are WRONG. To me, this type of conversation is about “I’m right, you aren’t,” and I definitely display this at my worst. So I guess I think it’s possible to do this in certain situations and not in others.

  • RebeccaSparks

    I think you would find reading linguistics or linguistic anthropology articles on arguing, politeness/rudeness & emotional work as interesting fodder for thought on this discussion; arguing for obvious reasons, politeness/rudeness for interesting thoughts on how direct we are due to social distance/hierarchy, and when/why people violate those rules and for what reasons, and emotional work is what we do to make sure that people feel appreciated and cared for, by attentive listening for instance.

    Personally, I think there’s different conversations for different times.  For example,  there are thinking conversations, and in those it’s good to have a devil’s advocate to challenge and expand your thinking.  These are my favorite types of conversations.

    Then you have your warm fuzzy conversations, where you build relationships.  This is where you want to listen and be listened to and be mutually affirming.  This type of conversation is good also when one person is feeling down.

    And of course there are many more styles with many other motivations, and the trick is to match your style to your conversational partner.  There’s times when one needs constructive feedback and all you’re getting back is warm fuzzies, and there’s other times when one feeling worn by constant critique and just want an affirmative conversation.    It’s being to recognize this in the other party and change style accordingly, or being able to prompt the right style from the other person that leads to harmonious conversation.

  • Ck Thea

    Yes! I have noticed that conversational style!  It is less annoying when you identify that it is happening.  I think it is especially wearing because I know when I make casual conversation, I don’t want to have to vigorously defend the point I am making, especially if it is a casual observation or opinion.  Every passing opinion I have is not a strongly held conviction.  I find that some people treat every opinion offered as if it were presented as a fact, and that’s what makes it difficult.  “It’s a beautiful day” is met with a list of what temperature and degree of cloud-cover defines a beautiful day.  That feeling that no matter what you say will be met with opposition is a conversation killer.  It’s also wearing when you offer an opinion, and the other person tries to “win you over” by presenting an argument.  I like chocolate ice cream.  Some people won’t rest unless you finally concede that vanilla is superior.  Sigh……  

  • Guest

    When I was reading this article I couldn’t help but think of someone I know. That someone is myself. Although I won’t always exercise this part of my personality, its definitely always lurking in the background urging me to jump into a conversation. Over the years I’ve practiced just keeping my mouth closed no matter how much I disagree with the other speaker. I’m not really sure what this stems from. I have at times found myself arguing on the side that I don’t necessarily agree with just because I felt someone needed to play the devils advocate. I’m a very analytical person and I think it may stem from that. When forming opinions I like to weigh all possible options and the pros and cons of each. Then when I hear someone making cut and dried opinions I have the overwelming urge to point out why that may not be 100% correct. I spend equal amounts of time arguing with myself to some extent. :) That’s just my self-analysis, I hope this insight into my OCS mind helps your curiosity into why we behave this way.

    • kristi

       This is EXACTLY what goes on in my head.  I am very analytical and also very “shades of grey” so I always want to see both sides of things. Sometimes it’s an intellectual challenge of a sort to try to see what the other side might be: what was that person thinking when they said this or did that? Did they know they were being rude or was there some other motivation? etc, etc.  I know that it’s been a point of frustration in relationships for me so I’m pretty aware of it but it’s really hard to stop sometimes. 

      One thing that helps me is to try to really focus on what the other person is feeling. For example, if my girlfriend is telling me a story about someone who did something at work that caused her problems or whatever, it’s way too easy for me to come up with reasons why that might have happened. If I can focus instead on how frustrating that must have been for her I can try to respond to that aspect of it instead of trying to “correct” her interpretation of the event.  I must admit I’m not always successful (particularly if it’s the same issue over and over).

      • Zb

        This is EXACTLY what my S.O does: tries to correct my interpretation of what happened by asking me whether I considered X, Y, or Z before coming to my conclusion. It makes me feel as though he A) doesn’t respect my ability to critically interpret the situation and B) doesn’t really care HOW I FEEL about the situation. He swears it’s “engaged listening:” that he’s participating in the conversation by asking questions about what I’m telling him. He really doesn’t understand how hurtful it is for me to hear “Well, did you think about this? I bet you just didn’t think about this” when I’m just trying to share something important to me with him. This goes for things I am happy about, upset about, angry about, excited about, crying about. Equal emotional opportunity oppositional conversational style.

        To your point, I am totally on board with seeing other perspectives. I know how important it is to explore another view of the same situation before drawing conclusions (I work in policy, this is an important skill) and totally value being able to hear other people discuss the same thing and how they are affected by it. But that doesn’t mean that someone else’s perspective is wrong, or any less valid, and if I’m sharing my perspective with you, I want to be respected.Kristi, your statement “If I can focus instead on how frustrating that must have been for her I can try to respond to that” seriously gives me hope. That’s all we want! For you to share in how we feel! That’s so thoughtful of you and seriously will make a difference. At least, in my experience it would.

    • Cheryl

       I do that whenever I hear someone state their opinion as if it is the only correct opinion to hold.  They state things in such a way that there is no room for “And yet”.  It can also be annoying when their opinion is diametrically opposed to mine, but I can accept disagreement if they don’t sound condescending about anyone who would dare to have a different opinion.

    • R Patridge

      Same here, I do this all the time, and it’s so hard to avoid it.  It feels like playing “Devil’s Advocate”, but taken way too far.  It seems like I’m more compelled to do this around certain people, such as those with whom I disagree on certain notoriously gray-area subjects (religion, politics, etc.).  I wonder if part of my motivation is to make myself feel or appear more dominant by creating (and “winning”) debates wherever I can create them.  Whatever the reason, I’m not a fan of this behavior, and I also find myself willfully keeping my mouth shut as much as I can remember to.

  • http://onethousandwordsormore.com/ Megan

    My husband has a form of OCS, but I think it’s just with me. I will say it’s partly cloudy, and he will say, “No, it’s partly sunny.”  Essentially, he will appear to disagree, but restate what I just said. I suspect it’s about needing to feel right sometimes (he doesn’t do this all of the time). Either that or he’s flat out not even listening to what I say.

    • Padiddle

      Oh, yes. Mine too! I’ve watched him with coworkers and friends and he doesn’t do this. I wonder if it may be part of the usual marital power struggle that many couples deal with.

  • Anna

    The need to be ‘right’ is overrated. Some people have a huger-than-life-need to be right, have the last word as tho they are the final authority on the subject at hand. I’m guessing it’s a power-trip for them and it’s about control. All of which, taken to the extreme is unhealthy on every level. I agree with the previous comment that it shows their insecurity; and immaturity on a social level. As cold and difficult as this might be, I have ‘deleted’ these people from influencing my life; they are drainers and I concentrate on surrounding myself with people who improve me (a few months back, that was one of your daily quotes that I received by email!). Tho I have tried in the past, I no longer waste my energy trying to convince  the nay-sayer of their responses. I’m not certain they see it or can even change it. I simply end the conversation (if possible) or keep very quiet if it must be endured.   

  • Anne

    My husband has a tendency to do this. After a lot of discussion, he now tries hard not to, and I appreciate that. 

    People who do this don’t realize they’d be sitting ducks for anyone with manipulative tendencies. During the time my DH was sort of set in this mode, I could have persuaded him of nearly anything, just by saying the opposite. I didn’t, but it made me laugh to think about it.

  • Susan

    OH no you’re not imagining this!  In fact, I had two brothers-in-law who each had one of your styles under discussion here.  The disagreeing with everything brother-in-law was labelled “a contrarian” by the interrogating brother-in-law!  It was rather amusing watching them – seldom and from a distance.  Otherwise it was just waaaaay too laborious!  (I usually passively take the role of listener in these conversations, it’s just easier, but as I get older I resent more and more the loss of my time to such neediness and have much less patience with such “uneven” conversations.)

  • Karenn

    Wow Gretchen – how did you know I was having this exact problem today? A colleague I have been working with today does this. I feel it is a way of domineering the conversation and it has made me feel very drained today. Not sure I could ask him about it though.

  • kfila

    Brene Brown had a similar conversation with a new acquaintance… and it eventually ended any further contact.  This particular oppositional conversation bordered on “I’m right and you are deranged.”  As you study their views you may also want to study whether to continue the acquaintance…  

  • Meg R.

    Hye Gretchen,
    I have known for a long time that I have OCS and I look for it in others.  When I was young it actually worked for me, always seeing the other side or outside the box really impressed a lot of people.  As I get older, I find that it annoys me in these others and myself as well; makes me look like a crochety old broad just looking to criticize.  There is another old saying:  Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?  I used to vote for the former now I know that its not a requirement in life and it is becoming very comfortable to sit back and just smile or laugh when someone else does the talking.  Also, keeping my mouth shut gives them less ammo against me.  I want my old age to be much more comfortable than my previous life. 

  • Dan Salcedo

    It’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  • Monica

    Yes, I recognize this type of conversation in my family. Thanks for explaining this type of conversation, I wondered about it.

  • http://theblackeyedsusan.blogspot.com/ Dana

    I have to say that I have never been conscious of this (though I’m going to start looking!).

    But: how do you feel about the OPPOSITE behavior? I often agree with everything people say.* In the past I have very consciously tried to “fix” this behavior. But recently I’ve noticed the benefits it has: I often break up tension when there is friction in a conversation, and I also think it keeps the conversation going at times (much like an OCS person probably does). It’s certainly something I try to keep in check (it’s no fun to talk to someone who will agree with everything you say). Just thought I’d throw it out there.

    *In casual conversation. I love a good debate – just ask my boyfriend. :)

  • Natalie47

    Gretchen, there are more comments here than I can cope with.

    I am also a lawyer but come from the peace-maker perspective.  Your observations have given me some insight into why my spouse and I differ in our conversational styles.  He furthers conversation by “being lawyerly” and I further it by finding common ground.  Mars and Venus?

  • Martha

    I have known and experienced this, always on the receiving end.   Generally, I do not care to have a conversation evolve in this way because it usually seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to (a) instruct me in areas I am incorrect or (b) pick at me in a contrary fashion. 

    I have a bossy acquaintance, who always knows exactly what I should have done that would work much better than what I did do.  She never fails to tell me, and “instruct” me so I can do better the next time.  It’s not meant to irritate–but it does.  On the other hand, I have a family member who I believe intends to irritate me.   I can count on her to always counter any statement I make.  I believe I could maneuver her into saying Christmas is in July if I’d casually comment, “I wonder why Christmas is never in July..?”  My way of coping with both irritating people is to draw those conversations to a close as fast as possible.

    It doesn’t have to be like this if someone has a different opinion or more knowledge about what you are saying.  I work with a woman who is very experienced in our field, and she is always able to make casual, yet specific suggestions to me without ever seeming to be bossy, critical or irritating.  She is kind and funny when doing so and has helped me at work immeasurably, and I appreciate her “instruction” very much.

  • Alicia

    This is my husband – to the tee… He is a wonderful person, kind and caring and funny but he does have a tendency to start every sentence with a “no, actually…”

    To answer your questions: no, he does not notice this tendency, and when I pointed that out to him once guess what he said – ” No! I don’t do that ” :-)
    Yes, it can be very tiring indeed and in our earlier years caused a lot of fights when I got defensive.

    I think he is starting to recognize it now, finally – and tries to moderate. Does not come easy though …

  • http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com elisa freschi

    I certainly use this kind of conversation style (I label myself an “advocatus diaboli”, since I tend always to take the *other* side, no matter which side was the initial one). But I usually warn the people I am talking with (“I might be lead to say X just because you are stating that non-X”) and I only do it in a serious conversation, about some intellectually interesting issue (just because I cannot help being on the “weak side”), not when someone utters a casual remark such as “Ice creams are tasty”. 

  • http://behappy.me/ Julia

    I find that this might be too broad – there are other factors to account for – people who enjoy provoking thought, or playing the devil’s advocate. 

    However this is certainly a thing, but can be divided into smaller categories. The first question then, to ask a person who is opposing you in conversation would be “What is your goal?” Understanding why they’re doing it would let you know if they’re simply fostering the discussion, or if they’re trying to make a point. 

    Julia
    behappy.me

  • http://twitter.com/DanneHotchkiss D’Anne Hotchkiss

    I have noticed this too, but what I’ve noticed is that these people tend to use this style only in conversation with certain people. This leads me to speculate that the oppositional one is acting in response to a feeling of inferiority to the other person. Has that been your observation? I’ve even noticed sometimes such a person will begin every response in opposition, but quickly then make a statement in agreement, but without ever acknowledging the about face. As though if’s reflexive to begin every response in the negative. When I start to get impatient, instead I find the humor in the situation, which allows me to remain civil.

  • Hersheybarb

    Hmm.  My gut reaction was simply that the people involved in the conversation are simply not compatible conversationalists and if it were me involved with the woman who answered negatively, I’d just think:  Why am I bothering with her?
    If, however, as it appears with the conversation with the man, there’s an element of, “I wonder what he means?” and you could actually learn something, then I’d be more inclined to say, “What do you mean?  What am I missing?”  You could end up still not agreeing but you’d have found out why.
    I have to converse with many very different people every time I work.  I find that if I don’t “agree” with them, I simply clam up and continue my job of checking out their groceries. ..

  • Robin

    I’m very aware as of this as a personality type. I have noticed that some are conscious of what they are doing and see it as being fun. Others seem to have no insight as to their behavior and don’t understand why people avoid being around them. There is another variation and that is the “one upper” if you tell them anything good that is going on in your life they are compelled to tell you about what ever they have, or do, or have done which is better than your experience. It is another very exhausting personality to deal with.

  • clb

    My husband does this.  I don’t think he realizes it.  When we are with friends and he gets on a roll it is tricky to try and cue him in to this without “undermining” him.  Fortunately he is sparatic in this pattern depending on his mood or stress level.

  • the other Kat

    Interesting to read everyone’s thoughts and experiences!

    It would be a mistake to generalize why people argue this way, as we are all individuals. It could be upbringing, habit, insecurity, negativity/pessimism, controlling behavior, wanting to feel heard, attempting to connect, debate as entertainment, and so on.

     I think if we are inspiring this response frequently, we should take an honest look at ourselves and our own conversational style. 

    When I become argumentative that way, it is usually with someone who comes off as a know-it-all. People who make broad generalizations, or simply state “facts” as if they are the expert of all things really annoy me. I enjoy giving it back to those types.

    My neighbor is one of those know-it-alls, and for the first couple of years I would just smile and nod. Now, I’ve become so sick of it that any time she says something that is clearly wrong, (the name of a plant, an athlete, whatever) I will jump in quickly and correct her. The first time I did it, she looked taken aback and embarrassed. Too bad! After years and years of listening to her go on and on about herself and everything she knows, I have to admit I enjoy every chance I get to correct her! Normally I would never correct someone in conversation, but because she is such a constant boor, I feel she had it coming! 

    There have been many of these people in my life – perhaps because I was always the quiet type who did more listening than talking, and others felt they could steamroll me. My sister was one of them. Once I hit my 30s, every time she told me what I should do or made a statement as if she was the expert, I began to immediately and proudly state an opposing opinion. SOLELY to exert my independence. She has finally stopped offering unwanted opinions or advice. I suppose sometimes OCS really IS a way to show dominance, but the other person may just deserve that kind of response if they’re being overbearing themselves. Just my experience!

  • Canterburybells

    My housemate has OCS and it drives me crazy. Please tell us how to deal with this problem Gretchen. She is such a nice person – generous, loving and funny. But once anyone makes any form of a statement she switches into OCS mode. Very tiresome and irritating.

    • Victoria

      Funny I ended up having to drop a friend because her OCS was so annoying. We used to work out together and at the end of every workout I would feel crabby and annoyed. I finally realized it was her chronic OCS. I would say something as simple as, ‘I am so happy there is no smoking in restaurants anymore’ and she would dive on me with something such as, ‘Well how do you feel about perfume? Isn’t is as noxious? And what about all those poor smokers who can’t smoke after a meal now.’ (She was not a smoker)It was with everything that came out of my mouth. I finally told her very nicely that I did not enjoy debating while working out and she just laughed and continued. I changed gyms. The crabbiness after my workout is gone.

      • katyll

         She never agreed with you about anything? Ever?

  • Grace

    At the risk of being accused of having OCS, I have to say that this statement is just plain wrong: “But I do recognize that to be on the receiving end of the occupational conversational style—to have someone keep telling you that you’re wrong, over and over—is not pleasant.” It should be “oppositional”, and not “occupational”…

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks!

  • http://iamthesupercommittee.wordpress.com/ souris

    OCS is indeed a real thing.  And I can tell you I would not have stayed in EITHER of those conversations for more than a few minutes.  OCS is f*ing annoying, and pointless.  I have gotten really good, over the past few years, at walking away from conversations that are annoying and pointless!

    Some people just really enjoy arguing.  They themselves will say it’s debate, or that they are being the devil’s advocate, or some other rationalization.  But they really just like to argue, and as you noted, they will take a contrary position *regardless* of whether it aligns with their personal beliefs … just to have the fun of arguing.

  • becky.

    i wonder if people who use OCS are also story toppers?

  • Jrearly

    I have been on the receiving end of a co-worker with OCS and she was overbearing and difficult to work with.  She did it to only certain people, too.  I have also had a supervisor with OCS but even when we were saying the same things, albeit in different ways, she would say “No, it’s like this” or purposely misunderstand what I said to put me in the ‘wrong.’  OCS people come across as negative. I prefer to be around people who like to build on consensus or compromise.

  • Chris Lamb

    I am just divorced from a man who has OCS, and your comment that it may be a way to “dominate” struck home.  It got to the point where I wouldn’t speak around him, especially in a social situation, because it felt so demeaning and  dismissive.  Good riddance!  :)

    And please may I point out a typo?  You have “… that to be on the receiving end of the
    *occupational* conversational style—…”

  • katyll

    I don’t get why you think someone disagreeing with you about minor things is a “debate.”

  • katyll

    I’ve been reading some of the posts, and the article, and I’m frankly confused. The idea that this is some kind of syndrome is ridiculous; but now that I said that, why, I must have OCS!

    Just a gentle hint, but couldn’t it be that the person disagrees? Is that the issue? Should they just AGREE with what you say so you’ll feel better?

    If that’s so, you don’t a conversation, certainly not an honest one. Maybe you’d prefer a bobble head doll. They might be stilted in conversation, but hey, at least they agree all the time!

    • E

      Yes, honey, you do have OCS. Reading your comment history, I see hyper-aggression, defensiveness, contradiction, and a general lack of grace.

  • Guest

    I find the number of critical/apologetic/AOL-type (“metoo!”) replies intensely amusing – but not in the least surprising, since almost all of them come from women (at least where the poster’s gender can be identified.) The style you’re talking about was even described as “mansplaining” by one poster – and it’s something that’s well-known to annoy women. What I am surprised about is that you bring it up as something new, and that your readership also seems unaware of it.

    The way I’ve heard it explained is that women tend to seek agreement/build community  in conversation, while men tend to seek to establish a hierarchy. This is why, when described less than charitably, women’s conversations sound like mindless, pointless chatter to men while men’s conversation sounds like aggression and disagreement to women.

    When it comes to an *actual* struggle for conversational dominance, though, I wouldn’t take any bets on who is putting more effort into having that upper hand. The “fine, _whatever_” response in the original post displays actual anger and upset – something that’s not even on the table in a conversation of the sort you describe (it’s just a conversational style, after all.) Who’s being more manipulative because they’re not getting what they want, here?

    As to how people who use this style of conversation get along with someone else using the same style: not a problem in the least. After all, they’re speaking each other’s language! It’s the combination of opposing styles _and_ the ignorance/inability/unwillingness to adapt, or to find a middle path, or simply unwillingness to agree to disagree, that leads to problems. Neither style is of itself good or bad; just different.

    What I’m seeing in this post is that less-than-charitable interpretation applied with a vengeance and rooted in ignorance of even the most basic conversational strategies – or even being used as a cheap ploy to garner a large number of responses by stimulating ignorant outrage. Driving men and women apart by taking up sides in the oldest battle of all. “Oppositional” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    (The last paragraph, for those of you who are now comfortably secure in your outrage and self-righteousness, was intended to demonstrate what happens when you leverage an uncharitable interpretation to stimulate a response. If you got caught by it, shame on you… grow up and learn to judge a book by its content, not its cover.)

  • Manou G.

    Just popping in re: conversation styles: At my advanced age, I reckon it goes something like this” me, me, me me, me”. —-“No!  “me,me,me,me!”,—“NO!  “ME,ME,ME,ME,ME”! All this in order to feel we’re being noticed and heard over the hubbub. Is that not what it comes down to? Don’t most people just want to be noticed and be heard? So, methinks, if someone bugs us by contradicting everything we say, we could gently ask them  if they’re having a difficult day… Or find a topic that might touch them personally… Or just acknowledge their point of view, even if we don’t agree. Maybe we’d learn something and save ourselves the boring task of having to spew out our own opinion yet again, which we already know anyway. Letting go of being right is hard but it can be very liberating. 

  • Kathia Emery

    I think I have read all 166 comments, so this will be the 167th!  Don’t know if people are still following this thread, but it is such an interesting topic. A relative of mine who is a therapist identified this tendency as “oppositional personality disorder,” when I was bemoaning the difficulty I have conversing with my 89-year-old mother-in-law (she opposes everything I or anyone else says).  I noticed a LOT of people mentioned their mothers-in-law, at least two people mentioned Asperger’s, and one mentioned the sign of Libra.  My MIL is a Libra, and I’m pretty sure she suffers from Asperger’s syndrome–highly intelligent, a former college professor, but just has to disagree with whatever anyone says.  Sometimes she will even disagree with herself if you try to agree WITH her!   My husband, who is also a Libra, brilliant, and probably Asperger’s also, has learned during the past 7 years of marriage to NOT  constantly correct my pronunciation (I am a native English speaker), pick fights at the dinner table (that’s what I call it when every casual conversation turns into a debate), and insist on being right over being kind.  He’s really trying–and I mean that in both senses of the word!  When his mother moved to our city and we started seeing a lot of her, he said “Please don’t let me end up like my mother!”  We now have a code between us when she throws out an oppositional comment:  “DRTTB”, or “Don’t rise to the bait”.  In other words, we change the subject, or walk out of the room.  And Gretchen–quitting drinking helped me a LOT to avoid reactive, belligerent responses to my OCS husband, so good for you!  Conversation is an art, and I try to constantly ask myself when tempted to say something harsh or sarcastic in response to someone else’s words “What am I trying to accomplish here?  What purpose will these words serve? ”  

  • Pat

    You described me.  I didn’t even recognize it until someone pointed it out to me.  I still do that oppositional thing and I have no idea why I do it.  This was pointed out to me a couple of years ago.  I keep on doing it.  Somewhat less.   If you could ask your readers if they have overcome this type of  behaviour I would be grateful.  This is behaviour that is not working for me and I don’t know how to stop or replace it.  For me it is a matter of not knowing how to connect or how to conduct myself in a discussion that isn’t combative. 

  • Donnamc12

    Most of the comments here seem to be about “serious” discussions, where a case is being made regarding facts or different opinions. I know two people who engage in this style over the most mundane matters (“It must have been hot working outside” will get a “No, not at all. I’m used to it” response one week, and the next week, when the same temperatures are present but my remark is “How nice it is to work outside,” the response will be “It would be nice  if it weren’t for that heat.”) It’s maddening, and so hard to carry on a conversation, as I feel the person is unnecessarily combative. For one friend I think she is just uber-competitive. Having a different opinion makes her smarter (she is really smart, but gee whiz . . .). For the second person, an old boyfriend, I think he did it because it did not want emotional intimacy. And that’s why he is an old boyfriend!

  • GuessWho

    Yes! In a frustrating can’t put my finger on it way. 

  • Ger_ammy

    I can definitely relate to this! I have a senior at work who frequently utters the phrase “I’m not disagreeing with you but. … (followed by OCS)”. So I think passive-aggressive OCS is a good description also!

  • Stephanie

    Hi Gretchen,

    this post reminded me of the concept of a “philosopher attack” from this very interesting blog about living with a philosopher when you aren’t one yourself http://philosiology.blogspot.fr/2011/04/surviving-philosopher-attack.html

    Also, I believe my brother-in-law operates OCS or a variant thereof. I’ve had a number of conversations with him about varied topics where at length it emerged that we actually agreed, but he would never admit that. I think that the way it works is that whoever he is speaking to has to agree to his way of formulating the issue.  And he does not know how to stop. He is a very interesting and friendly man, but talking to him can be very tiresome because of this!

    • Stephanie

       In fact I’m debating whether to send him a link to this blog post or to just start questioning him next time he does that!

  • Cheryl

    !.
    There is also the person who has a questioning conversational style. When you answer what you think is correct, the answer is ‘No……’ and then they give you the correct answer according to them.  It is also very wearing!

    You know what I mean. “Do you know why the ocean is blue?”  “Because the sky is reflected in it?”  “No, because…….”
    I think it is a speech pattern of which people are not aware. I went out with a gentleman twice and he had that pattern.  When I explained why there would be no future dates, he was astounded!  And, I heard through the neighbourhood gravevine later, told everyone that I was a bit nuts!
    I just decided that I didn’t want his negativity in my life.  Simple!

    2.  My second thought in this stream is the “Yeah, but” person. The complainer. They go on and on about their trials.  And, no matter what suggestion, solution or helpful hint you have, they have a reason it won’t work!  They actually love to complain as a conversational style…….Hey, I sense another book coming! ;-)) 

  • Myra

    I think this has to be one of the most frustrating types of interaction, this OCS style. I have an uncle who does this and I think it’s a defense mechanism with him, as he is the old-fashioned “macho” type, and he’s 86 too. Since he is advancing in age, and I don’t see him very often, I can give him a pass, in fact, I’ll just laugh in his face most of the time.  My mother started out in life as a wallflower, but now in her advancing years has become at times, a her-way-or-the-highway type….this is frustrating as I see her and talk to her all the time as we live in the same city!

  • D.P.K.

    From the flood of comments, it’s clear lots of people have experience with this — from the receiving end, the giving end, or both.  I myself find that the interaction can depend so much on the tone — even more than the actual words said — as well as the context of the  relationship.  If there are other positive aspects of communication, those OCS types of comments are easier to brush off or to take as someone’s style.  But when the tone is patronizing, and the OCS dynamic sums up most of one’s communications with the person, then it’s much harder to tolerate.

     

  • Emma

    I do this when people are very negative. I challenge their negativity, suggest positive ways they could look at things, suggest the person they’re moaning about might have their own problems (depression, etc.) which has caused them to act in a certain way. I suggest they might like to take action rather than complaining about other people. Suffice to say, these conversations do not end well – thank you for pointing out the reason why!

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzanne.utts Suzanne Utts

    Yes, I have noticed that kind of conversational style. I tend to use a tactic that I learned from an Orthodox Jewish friend.  I answer such a person with “Why do you think so?” (when they first state a disagreement). They then respond as to why their position is right. Then I answer “Oh.” (just “Oh.”  period…not “Oh?????”).  Then I turn and walk away.  

    Another style I notice is a person who is a whiner.  No matter what happens, she or he whines. I have a couple people in my life like this. They speak in a whine or in an aggrieved tone of voice. I think I will start answering them in the same tone and see what happens.  ;-)

  • Terry09

    Thank you for this topic and all of the comments. I have been thinking about it all week.

    I agree with the comment that some people see themselves as the teacher and the other person the student. I have noticed that some of the most frustrating conversations are when a person constantly makes judgements about others’ decisions or actions when the speaker has no experience in that situation. Sometimes it is a case of respecting that others are smart enough to make their own decisions and that situations are more nuanced than what appears on the surface.

    Another point: years ago I read “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.” One of the main concepts is how we deny others’ feelings (in this case, children) without asking or listening. “Put on a coat, it’s cold outside.” “You can’t be hungry, you just ate.”

    An immediate family member just went through cancer treatment. I know many people in town and I CONSTANTLY heard “you must feel… ” when that wasn’t what I was feeling. I would try to clarify, even in a positive way, and I realized that people didn’t want to listen. They were focused on their feelings and their recactions. There wasn’t anything mean spirited about it – I have observed it repeatedly in the last six months and think that it is part of our culture. We talk. It has made me a much better listener and I am much more engaged in conversations.

    • gretchenrubin

      The book HOW TO TALK SO KIDS WILL LISTEN is my very favorite book about parenting, and one of my favorite books in general. It is so incredibly helpful about how to talk to other people. Maybe this “denying others’ feelings” is part of why OCS can be annoying. Sometimes OCS takes that form, of contradicting something that’s your statement about your own experience.

  • Angels66

    I worked for one dr., a podiatrist, who stood around talking in the front office while I filed charts (which didn’t take concentration). He loved playing Devil’s Advocate, and watching the other staff members roll their eyeballs, tiring of the conversation. What bothers me is my friend, who has a heart of gold otherwise. She cannot leave politics and religion out of the numerous e-mails she clogs my inbox with. She refuses to respect my requests. She’s been fired from numerous jobs over the last 45 years, but wouldn’t dream of changing. Once she has your e-mail address, you must delete her e-mails, or your computer slows down. She could not care less about your own feelings. As for the wife of your friend, don’t you think she feels a bit hostile at such an intelligent friend of her husband’s? She needs to prove she’s “different” from you and possibly better. Intelligent people are threats at times.

  • Jeannie

    I am so grateful that someone has recognized this trait in other people & attempted to identify it! My husband is an OCS & it takes a lot of self-control on my part to bite my tongue & not retort back to him in anger. When he does this to me in conversation, I usually immediately be quiet and turn or walk away. I hate it and it drives me crazy.

    I’d be very interested in seeing responses from others about positive and constructive ways to handle OCS in conversation with others. I don’t mind a stimulating debate now & again (I debated in high school), but as Gretchen pointed out, it can quickly wear on one and become tiring and even hurtful after awhile.

    Often, it even makes me feel that my husband thinks I’m stupid and looks down on me since he seems to feel a constant need to “correct” whatever I say.

    • Sv

      “Often, it even makes me feel that my husband thinks I’m stupid and looks
      down on me since he seems to feel a constant need to “correct” whatever
      I say.”

      You should tell him that…He needs to know how you are feeling.

  • Marquettemary

    My Mother practices this in every cell of her body…it seems ingrained in her.  In some ways, I think she does it because she wants us to realize she is intelligent and has a few point, is well read and informed…(that’s what I am thinking is in her mind), but on the other hand, she’ll even disagree with something that is your experience.  I talked to her one day about something that had happened to me and she said no that’s not true…I said it just happened to me today Mom, I’m telling you this was MY experience.  So it does seem she’ll disagree with anything to just disagree.  My husband and I have fun sometimes trying to turn the conversation and do the X vs. Y to turn her around and then we say Y and she goes to the X side.  My Mom actually said one day that “I know what you are doing” when we tried that little game.  But it still makes us smile!   My Mom’s favorite words are also “no, no, no”  to everything…whether it is a good idea or not.  I think it is her way of saying stop this isn’t in my control…I don’t care if it is a great idea or not, it is more than my brain can comprehend right now.  So we just bear with her and don’t worry about who is right.  Sometimes we ask “why do you feel that way or what makes you think that Mom?” and a lot of times she won’t have an answer. 

  • Heatherwebster07

    My husband has been telling me that I do this for years! I have recently made a comittment to working on myself…what can I do about this? I can not let someone be wrong when they are, I feel like that is doing them a disfavor as well. Also, I feel that it can be a defensive mechanism. I say that because picking at the words themselves is a way to avoid the actual issue being addressed. I dread confrontation and yet have a very combative conversation style. Please help! I would love to be able to have real conversations with my husband & others, it could help my job and everyday life as well.

    • Pat

      I too would like help with my behaviour.  I dread confrontation.   Sometimes I think I do it because my mind goes hears something needs to be fixed and I go into a “fix it mode”.   Or it triggers that response in me.  I can’t tell the difference if people want my opinion or just want be to listen.  Making conversation is difficult for me to do.  I see people chatting away and I envy the ability.   It looks so relaxing and easy when other people do it.   It took me years to figure out that when people asked me, “How are you?”.  The best answer was, “Fine, how are you doing?”.  I thought it was a real question and I would answer with how I really was.  If someone asked me (for example) how do I like the dress she’s wearing.  Should I always lie and say it’s great.  My natural response is to say what I think.  Also, Do not ask me if you don’t want the truth.   I’m quite able not to give an opinion if not asked.  (Whew! that’s a relief).

  • funnyguest

    I know I’ve been “accused” of the “I am right, you are wrong” debate…not often but I am sensitive to it.  I don’t view it as a “conversational” style per se in my situation but one where perhaps I get overly defensive instead of just stopping and allowing another to be “wrong” or whatever.  I like to think that it usually only becomes an “issue” if the conversation is over something I know 100% I’m right about and the other person is convinced they are 100% right…that’s when the repetition starts and the defensiveness.  I’m working on STOPPING much earlier and just allowing the other person to view ONCE their position and my stating ONCE my position and leaving it at that.  It’s hard sometimes because I justify my repetition as caring about the other and not wanting them to continue to believe the sky is red when in fact it is blue.  I am working on “so what if they want to believe it is red” no big deal.  What is more valuable…my relationship or being “right?”

    • Tria MacLeod

      IMHO – If it is something you both feel that passionately about, unless it is going to cause them or someone else harm, let them believe the sky is red.   If hard facts (and I do mean facts, not opinions or so and so says) won’t sway them then they are emotionally committed to their point of view and arguing over it will only make things worse.   I guess this would fall under the ‘chose your battles’ banner.

  • http://twitter.com/TalkStrategyNFP Jessica Green

    Yes, I believe most people who are OCS-inclined know that they are.  At least, I know that I tend to be OCS, and it’s something that I think about often. If anyone knows a good resource on how to change your own conversation habits, please let me know. ;) My hubby would appreciate it also I’m sure. ;)

  • Kate

    The oppositional conversationalist pattern you describe is a very familiar one to me… my spouse (of almost 30 years) has this “style” and it takes great personal patience to deal with…. I like Kat’s statement: ” A conversation should be enjoyable, not a competition.”  I have gotten more assertive over the years and have no compunction now of letting him know when he needs to chill out and LISTEN for awhile.  Conversely, he has softened (a little) over time.  Our relationship is what I call The Counselor and The Accountant–as the accountant, he sees things as black and white; as the counselor, I see most things in gray.  As the accountant, he generally has all the facts in hands and is bursting at the seams to express why he is right in his opinion; as the counselor, I know what I think but listen to him first (whenever possible) and then pronounce my opinion and perspectives when he’s through.  I objectively tell him on the occasions when I need to talk first and what I need from him at that moment.  Most of the time, this strategy works.  He is a sweet and high strung guy… but I tell him when he has gone overboard.   I won’t tolerate a bully.  There have been times I have wondered about us…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RYKQV654UCTVSPZ5DTVQUDHUWU BrianP

    I work with a woman like this. It is very taxing. You could say the sky is blue and she’ll, very nicely, tell you no, it’s actually… 

  • Mayhem

    I love this, no I dont

  • Guest

    I noticed I do it since I was little, in my 20’s now.  I do it mostly for discussions sake, although I know it can get rather irritating on some things but can’t really help it unless I notice I’m doing it.

  • Crying As I Type

    I was telling a friend how much I admired “M”. My friend started complaining about him – how overbearing and manipulative he was. I said, “Oh, I haven’t seen that side of him.” A year later, when I had seen that side I said something negative to my friend about “M”. My friend said, “He’s just passionate, he really cares about what he does.” I said, “Oh for Christ’s sake, make up your mind – last year when I loved him you hated him, and now when I hate him you love him. What’s up with that shit?

  • Matt Gumbel

    I’ve recently come to the realization that I do this. It causes problems for me in both work and personal life. I’m desperate to figure out how to stop doing it. My brain just comes up blank when I try to think of something to say that is both interesting yet non-confrontational. Help!

  • Macmanus

    Another name for this is a “polarity response.” You say black, their response is white.

  • Timbux

    The older I get the less I care about other people’s opinions. I’m sure we all feel a bit more comfortable with people who share our world view and those are the people I choose to spend the most time with. I don’t waste energy on debate or controversy. Even spell-checking ticks me off. I’d rather talk about fun things, and do fun things. Hooray!

  • tzena

    In my twenties I had some friends who kindly brought this issue to my attention. I was and still have a tendency toward OCS. In contrast to many posts here, I don’t have low-self-esteem or confidence. I don’t hate confrontation like others have said. My dad does this as well and I grew up where confrontation, someone always playing Devil’s advocate, and debating skills were normal dinner conversation. If you lost the argument it was because 1) you were wrong and/or 2) you didn’t have enough debating skill to win. So when I debate someone I find it a fun mental exercise. It took my friends sitting me down to have any idea that other people don’t feel this way, that most people hate confrontation so much they will suffer in silence and avoid doing anything to fix a problem because it might mean having an uncomfortable confrontation. I’m a small woman but have repeatedly been told I’m intimidating. I respond with “what am I gonna do? I’m a small woman, I can’t actually do anything bad to you if you say something to me I don’t like! Just tell me what’s going on so we can discuss it, solve the problem, and move on.” I now understand that not everyone likes debating for fun in casual conversations and sometimes I can catch myself, a lot of the time I still figure out I’m doing it again after the other person has shut down and is upset at me. It is really hard to know you are doing it and see the signs that the other person is not enjoying it. When I have come across other people who do this to me I try to point out when I have reached a point in the conversation where it is NOT fun anymore and suggest that we agree to disagree and move on to another topic. Mostly I find that those who have not had the realizations I’ve had don’t get why I’m upset and asking them to stop. This is where I used to be. If you can visibly see or hear that the other person is upset, not enjoying the conversation, wants out and it is a casual situation you should let it go. There is still a part of my brain that wishes more people who get upset with me would just learn better debating skills, our population in general doesn’t understand how to find holes in arguments and that is why we are so easily swayed by lying politicians and media. Everyone should have the debating skills that I have, but everyone also needs to learn the social skills that I’m still developing now. If people felt more comfortable with confrontation we’d have less problems in society. People would tell someone that they had hurt their feelings and relationships would be saved, not festering below the surface until someone explodes.

    • Tria MacLeod

      I would modify those last 2 sentences a bit from my pov.  Granted I’ve moved between a lot of countries while growing up so my perspective is a bit different.  I completely agree with you regarding people needing to learn analytic skills, particularly where politics and religions are involved as I see too many people follow either (or both) blindly and that seems to lead to a lot of arguments as opposed to debates.    

       But, and I find this to be a particularly American trait, people need to learn how to say, as you do, “this conversation has gone as far as it’s going to go tonight, let’s agree to disagree and change the topic” without either feeling guilty (or weak) for saying this or having the other person take offense or act like a sore loser.   Nearly every other culture I’ve lived in could do this and be perfectly fine. But  for some reason people here don’t seem to communicate as well.   My assumption is that it is because there are so many different backgrounds and cultures here as opposed to other, older countries, but it is purely a guess on my part.   

    • Sally Roberts

      Turning conversations into debates to either prove you’re right, or that you have the debating skills to silence your conversation partner, is never desirable.

      In most cases, these forced ‘debates’ hinge on nothing more than ready access to facts. The one who has such tends to win out over the one who doesn’t. But in today’s smartphone-enabled world, everybody has facts at their fingertips. 

      I have, on several occasions, witnessed the premature death of a dinner party conversation once one party decides to repeatedly and continually challenge another on their facts. This rapidly disintegrated into Google wars–and rather fittingly, the better skilled debater was not better skilled at Google searches, so she ‘lost’ miserably at the game she instigated.

      With both sides now supplied by their own facts and thus debate on those terms leading to deathly boring stalemate, the nature of debate moves towards interpretation of facts.  But quelle surprise!  Today’s blogosphere provides competing interpretations of facts in easily accessible form.

      So what lies beyond argument over interpretation? No matter. It will be equally corruptive of the art of conversation.

    • Noirling

      No. You’re wrong. Lol.

  • Delphi99

    Not sure if this is an aspect of OCS, but another kind of response in a conversation that seems oppositional is the response “that’s obvious” or “everyone knows that”. Even if a conversational point WERE obvious or common knowledge, the statement is almost breathtaking when I encounter it (especially when I encounter it regularly, but from the same person). Any suggestions for how to respond?

  • pandakrusher

    If you find yourself surrounded by people who contradict and correct everything you say, stop being wrong all the time.

  • Thegodhonesttruth

    yes i have noticed it too – and no I don’t think you’re making it up. My boss is lovely, sweet and an OCS type communicator. Knowing this, I’ve used her ‘quirk’ to my advantage (stating the opposite of my belief in order to get her to state what I believe as the correct course of action – it’s like opposites day)!
    I don’t think she uses it as a strategy or on purpose – in fact I don’t think she realises she does it!
    I think subconsciously she feels powerful and dominant when she is constantly contrary – that it somehow distinguishes her as a leader in a team of highly educated people.
    I certainly don’t think she is doing it to be tiresome, however, it is… every damn day.

    • gretchenrubin

      This reminds me of a funny story about Samuel Johnson, one of my patron saints –

      Samuel Johnson, though I didn’t make the connection until now, had EXTREME OCS. A major part of his personality.

      Boswell, his friend and biographer, took advantage of this—for instance, once used the OCS to get Johnson to agree to go to a dinner party where one of his arch-enemies would be. Boswell did it by saying things like “I know it would be pointless to ask you to go, you’d never agree to meet him” etc.

  • MrNiceguy

    If I say “something is X”, my wife answers, “No, it is X”…all the time!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1518845660 Jenna Sommerkorn

    I had a coworker who was not my direct report on paper but she was unofficially “my boss”. She would correct EVERYTHING I had to say, even to the silliest, smallest details that really had no bearing on the subject except for her need to be precise. She would interrupt me to correct me like I was a child. It got to the point where I just couldnt handle it anymore and stopped talking to her unless absolutely necessary. I felt oppressed and very unhappy working under this person who constantly made it clear that what I thought, felt and expressed was technically incorrect or at the worst that ll of my own assumptions, beliefs and opinions had no validation. While I liked her in the beginning I loathed her as I was leaving. It was sad.

    • gretchenrubin

      I once had a coworker who kept trying to give me assignments. “Why don’t you look that up and report back?” etc. It took me a while to understand this as a domination strategy.

  • Brigettegherardi

    chalk it up to plain old devil’s advocacy in some cases, I myself am quite ornery and enjoy pushing buttons…I have been accused of passive aggression on occasion. Maybe at the time you were experiencing feelings of insecurity or an inequality in wits? THIS IS NOT AN INSINUATION.

  • http://twitter.com/MoonpieNobot Moonpie Nobot

    This happens to me all the time. And it’s usually when I agree with the person. What I have found though is that it happens most when the other person insults somebody. “So and so is a jerk” they say. “Oh totally” I say. “No he’s just misunderstood” they say. It’s like hearing their opinion voiced back to them changes their mind, 

  • Frank ricard

    In my experience, I’ve seen “OCS” concentrated more in people in their early to mid-20s than in any other age group, which is to imply that it is something that can be shed–consciously or not–with age/maturity.  Of those who I’ve seen exhibit the quality, some have been playful in their constant disagreement whereas others have been downright belligerent.  I know a girl who would disagree with me even when she had presented evidence showing that she was less knowledgable than me in the topic that we were discussing.  I found this quite patronizing as it suggested that she simply didn’t think I that I could , even if she didn’t know enough to confirm that.  Regardless of whether or not that was truly her sentiment, she certainly gave that impression.  At best, conversations with those who possess this trait are taxing.  At their worst, one can feel subjugated by the relentless disagrement

  • Wangston

    > Have you noticed this, too?Yes
    > If OCS is real, is it a strategy that particular people use
    consistently?Yes. There is no behavior you can practice to get an OCS-oriented communicator to change their behavior. Sometimes you’ll get lucky.

    > Along those lines, is OCS a way to try to assert dominance, by correction? That’s how it feels, and also…No, I don’t think so, at least not consciously so. It’s a mistake to take it personally. But if you find it unpleasant, you should limit your contact with these folks.

    > Do people who use OCS recognize this style of engagement in
    themselves; do they see a pattern in their behavior that’s different
    from that of most other people?
    Not in my limited experience.
    > Do they have any idea how tiresome it can be?The people I know who are OCS are aware that lots of people can’t stand them, but I’m not sure they are quite clear on why. From your perspective you can see that there’s a need to be contrary that defies logical consistency (and therefore seems pathological), but from inside, I don’t think it looks that way.

  • Jaan Q

    Funny, I just commented to my friend Adam about this the other day.  He has OCS.  I hate to say this, but I’m pretty sure it’s to try to establish dominance because he doesn’t have much of a life.  I’ve seen him fail miserably with women time and again because he makes them feel patronized.  It’s very tiring to have a conversation with him and I often just give up.

    This is a good example of his OCS.  I fix computers for a living and he wanted advice on upgrading his 7 or 8 year old computer.  I told him he’s be better off saving his money and getting even the cheapest new $300 computer.  After a little back and forth his ultimate response was “I have a lot of USB devices and new computers just don’t have USB ports”.  Really…new computers don’t use USB.  OKay.  Good luck.

  • Thinus Prinsloo

    I had a friend at the university who was exactly like this.  Somehow he thought that to have an opinion implies contradicting whichever statement is presented to him.  He would never agree with anything you tell him, or if he does it would be along the lines “yeah, but…”.  I found it immensely tiring to converse with him.  It was so important to him to have an opinion, and through this misguided behaviour of him, it came across as him being, as you put it, an “oppositional conversational” stylist.

  • andrew gair

    In one way this can be a technique to aid conversation in social situations,
    disagreeing with someone means the conversation has somewhere to go in
    the short term, bypassing any potential awkward silences or whatever because disagreeing prompts a response. 

    My partner always uses this style because she has (an admitted) need to always be seen as the smartest person in any situation.  It really becomes apparent when I say something and she immediately agrees with it, because this has happened about 4 times in 14 years.

  • eda1223

    yes. my best mate dose it non stop. he got banned from the boys house for a few weeks for being so abrasive. I’m not sure he is aware of it. i agree it is a way to assert dominance and authority through their apparently more informed view. i do see that it causes a lot of people to not want to spend a lot of time with him. which is the reason i think its beyond his control. people often tell him about his pattern of behaviour but he denies it saying that, that sort of pseudo science is exactly the bullshit he’s been talking about all along etc… my best guess that it may be a marker for one of the personality disorders. 

  • Ovid1010

    I think I exhibit this behavior, although it would never be so dull as “no, it’s not a nice day outside.”  I might say, “well actually,  I guess it could be considered a crappy day because of  X, Y, or Z (dead person, supreme court ruling, etc.)

    Although I fit into the concept of OCS, I think it is rather narrow (surprise!).  I feel like I mostly end up taking the other side in conversations because I am constantly aware that I don’t really know much at all, only what I’ve heard and read.  By constantly questioning what I an others see to be true, I guess I’m hoping to get closer to the truth.   Or, a truth that is good enough for me at least.

    I can see how this can be seen as argumentative, negative, even confrontational.  But it’s funny, because inside my head it doesn’t feel that way at all.  It feels investigative, interesting; it feels fun.  But because this style of talking involves “taking sides”, it often leads to confrontation and many seem to believe that what I want is to Win the point, be “right”.   There is some truth to that, there is a bit of a good feeling to being “right”.  But I’m actually always much happier when someone holds the opposite view, even if they “beat” me.  It’s the conversation, the fun of talking and taking a viewpoint, that is important.  And hopefully, though admittedly not often enough, I walk away knowing a bit more from each conversation.

  • Scott Zuris

    I wonder if there isn’t a solution in the way you engage the person. In order for the oppositional  style to work, they need something to rail against. If you bring up a subject without expressing an opinion on it, how do they respond? They’re essentially taking a reactive role in the conversation, and this may “short circuit” the behavior. And since oppositional reactive behavior reveals nothing about the person (its essentially like having an argument with your own mirror image), this would give them a chance to reveal themselves to you and become vested in their own opinions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ltalessi Lisa Alessi

    Fascinating topic, great conversation!  I love patterns and have recently started working with the Enneagram, a personality system of 9 types that help you understand people’s core motivations and why they do what they do.   I’ve found it helps me depersonalize these types of interactions when I understand how a person might be taking in and filtering information at a subconscious level, they’re often not even cognizant of what they are doing.  It helps take the zing out of the conversation when you realize it’s more a reflection of their inner world and learn to redirect them.   Another great resource to shift perspective and get you thinking about another’s point of view is The Anatomy of Peace, great book, changed the way I interact with people.  Thanks so much Gretchen for initiating such an engaging dialogue on an important topic.

    • Myra

       Wow! Sounds like you’ve been really hurt by some of your “friends”. I can relate to some of what you have vented here. My parents, esp my Mom is basically a redneck from the country. She has a great heart, but can’t stand to be wrong, esp from her daughter(me). I’ve been to  college, traveled around the world, well-read. She can drive me nuts when I know I’m right, and she just says…well, that may be, or something similar to that. Anyway, life is too short to let petty people hurt you. I hope you find peace, and some “nice” friends to hang with!!

    • gretchenrubin

      I love the Enneagram. Fascinating.

      _____

  • Dar McWheeler

    Interesting stuff.

    I am a MENSA guy who’s read over 650k/pages of educational material and am a small-E expert in a number of areas (and an actual expert is a couple). It breaks my heart that I have to avoid my friends because they treat me this way. Sure, I can debate and argue with the best of them, but why do the unarmed always come to me for their workout?

    I have one friend who does the oppositional thing with vigour. I call it “moving the goal
    post”. No one else can ever be right and to be right he will continually change his possition until we aren’t even talking about the original topic anymore. Not surprisingly, he is intelectually under-funded, woefully uneducated and plagerizes his talking points from right-wing sources.

    Then there
    are the rest of my circle of friends. I grew up with these people so I don’t feel I can just ditch them outright. They are mostly high-school educated,  “you can learn a lot from TV” types who
    have the  “I’m gonna find the chink in his armour; he can’t always be
    right” mindset who just argue with me Dunning-Kruger style hoping to “win”. Whatever that means; I admit I’m wrong all the time when new evidence comes along. Which, to them, makes me seem like I don’t actually know anything because “smart people stick to their beliefs”, so I’m told.

    I actually have a Service Heart streak in me; I love making people happy which probably comes from unsuccessfully trying to please my parents. I’ve done a signifigant amount of private, never-told-anyone charitable things. Other than being a servant, making others happy is mostly not possible. People are unhappy for lots of reasons that I can’t help them with. But that doesn’t stop them from coming to me with their problems and then arguing with me about my proposed solutions, then condescendingly telling me how wrong I am when they don’t like them. Pointing out that I’m merely conveying what other experts say about the situation is usally lost on them. To them I’m the oppositional guy.

    So, I’ve given up. I no longer help anyone. If they want to believe the they can move the moon with their minds and that the world is only 6000 years old and that Ayn Rand was an uber-genius and Consevatives will save the world, then fine for them. It’s too painful to have people constantly wanting to have a bumper sticker level of dialoge and then move the goal post so that facts never score a touchdown. I dodge all controversies, especially with people that seem to have IQs under 110; they won’t, nay *can’t* understand what I’m saying. It’s too upsetting to be misunderstood then militanly opposed and condescended to. I refuse to just sit there nodding agreement with nonsense. I’m tired of being called oppositional and contradictory by stupid people.

    Cheers

    • Jay

      Dar, you’re throwing a lot (and I do mean A LOT of polarizing language around) in your comment here. I’m an expert, you’re not. I have a service heart, you don’t. I’m left-wing, you’re right-wing.

      Maybe there are some OCS people in your life, but frankly, the way you express yourself makes me want to disagree with you. I suspect others who know you personally might feel the same way, only more so.

      • brando

        I think I’m a lot like Dar in some ways. At least how he describes himself. I’ll research before I speak, and people find the certainty in my voice offputting, and they reflexively disagree with even the most ironclad statements. When someone says something like “All Republicans should be killed!”, “What Fred Phelps does at USMC funerals is great!”, I used to ask if they want a mulligan, but now I know they truly mean it. Usually they follow up with some Appeal to Popularity, like 99% of Americans (and 100% of the rest of the world) agree with them. I’m a good listener.

    • tom servo

      wow, Dar, what a loaded post! Everyone you talk to is dumber than you! No one appreciates your great genius! No one has read as many books as you! No one you talk to has an IQ as high as yours! Everyone who disagrees with you on any subject is stupid and unworthy of being helped!!

      Seeing that you dumped all that in a single comment here, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine you dumping those comments into every single conversation you have. Hmm, and you wonder why no one takes it well.

      How DARE they not get on their knees and bow down at the very wonderfulness of the privilege you offer them to hear your great Pronouncements of Benevolence? How DARE they!!!

    • Landru

      Dar, seriously.. you have done more to damage whatever reputation you think you have for being intelligent, fair and charitable in one post than most people could in years.

      You actually start off talking about your intellectual credentials and how much you read, and then follow up by spelling plagiarism wrong. Word of advice: even though this is the internet, best not do that when trying to come across as a genius.

      Your dismissal of ‘right-wing’ sources doesn’t help your case any; in fact it hurts it, since only a blind partisan would write off the source of information based only on where it falls on the ideological spectrum. There are information sources on both right and left that are beneath comment, and ones that are exemplary. But it’s the content that must be judged, not the ideology. A MENSA guy should know that.

      By the way, thanks for dissing all the ‘high-school educated’ people out there for not really having intelligence, at least not enough to keep up with you when they want a ‘workout.’ It appears intelligence and snobbery may be directly correlated, if not outright connected causally.

      And then there’s the burden of your philanthropic instincts. I feel for you that you want to help people, but so many of them refuse to accept your solutions without question. Now that you’ve given up helping them, I wonder what they will all do. Maybe they’ll just read The Fountainhead and try to duplicate Bishop Ussher’s biblical time calculations on the age of the earth.

      Lastly, let me plead with you to stop talking about MENSA and IQ. If you’re really that smart, you should know that the quantification of intelligence into an ‘IQ’ is a sham. The only people who glom onto that idea are those who feel they have something to prove, that the outcomes of their intelligence aren’t enough to impress.

      Read Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man (if that wasn’t in your more than 650K pages of education material) to understand why reification of intelligence is a fool’s game.

      Sorry for being contradictory here, but I can’t stand it when the unarmed come on a forum like this for their workout.

    • Pat

      “Not surprisingly, he is intelectually under-funded, woefully uneducated and plagerizes his talking points from right-wing sources.”

      Hate to break it to you buddy, with you being so well-educated and so much smarter than your friends and all, but you spelled intellectually wrong.

  • http://robottrees.com/ J. J. Ulm

    Argh! I had a friend who did that constantly, and since he was a bully in every other form of social interaction I blamed it on a need for dominance. I’d like to say I stopped being friends with him, but he was the one who broke things off…after I dared to stand up to him.

  • Shawn

    Eristics Lives! The ancient Greek art of arguing the opposite of anything. Alexander of Macedonia challenged a general whom he was mad at to an eristic debate in front of the Macedonia army. The general being Greek took the bait. He was given the task of arguing the opposite of what he believed about the army. He trash talked them till they rose up and killed him. Alexander coyly smiled, as he executed a man by a few simple sentences.

  • Dr. Awesome

     I work in product development and this is an important part of directional discussions.
    If you have someone in the discussion always forcing an opposing point of view it can help you see the full scope of a topic and explore things you might have otherwise ignored.

     I have seen many people who latch on to this style of conversation because it is the only way they feel they can participate and contribute. It becomes tedious and tiresome when you are simply trying to move through mundane details or when you absolutely know the most efficient course yet there is still someone there yammering about “what if?”. These people seem to lack the ability to distinguish being the artistic and scientific tasks of product development and are uncomfortable with the fact that ultimately there is one project leader or head designer  that needs to own all the “point of view” decisions on a project.

    This can be an incredibly useful tool in product development or a very dangerous one.
    I have seen dozens if not hundreds of projects fail because someone in a high level of power needed to argue with every single decision that was made.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=624220222 Yar-ren D.

    This seems like a form of “mansplaining!” 

  • Guest

    My daughter does this.  Once I was trying to have a conversation, so I tried to engineer the topic to something she would agree with me on.  I brought up the some countries’ criminalization of assisted suicide, and a person’s right to die with dignity.   It ended with her declaring that if I had a terminal disease, I shouldn’t use my remaining coherent moments to say goodbye to my family, I should off myself with a shotgun in the kitchen.

    Nice.

  • HoboWhisperer

    Olways Correct Syndrome.  I knew someone who had it.  I no longer talk to her – every conversation was essentially a lecture.

    • Chrisjuricich

      Btw this is an interesting site.

      OCS sounds interesting to me, conceptually, and it seems a variant of some folks penchant of ‘always being right’, wherein there must always be a winner and a loser. I’m well aware that we all might follow patterns of behavior that work–or don’t work for us–and conversationally speaking, I constantly try to mix up my patter. My fellow staffer always uses ‘Excellent!’ when responding to a customer…which is fine, but boring. I noticed this, and consequently decided to eliminate the word ‘awesome’ from my regular lexicon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dippydipper Graeme de Preux

    Oh, I do this. I am a very friendly guy but when i analyse conversations I have had then it is clear that I am ‘playing devils advocate’ and putting up a defence for an opposite view. Sometimes I genuinely agree with what I am saying but other times I think “why are you thinking like that” . 
    It’s not to be awkward…my thinking process always looks at both sides of the coin before I make a decision. Some say it’s because I am Libra. I don’t believe in that nonsense but I certainly have a balanced view on life. 

  • guest

    Oh, Gretchen.  What does one do when your family does this to no end?  It is so bad in mine that it has caused a seriously strained relationship with my sister and I.  She is 8 years older and you hit the “patronizing” thing on the head.  I’m not sure how to tell her about this issue, but it is more than just annoying in our case.  She is basically a contrarian through and through!

  • Greg Webster

    I wonder if this is at all related to what I like to call Timeframe Scope Shift in conversations. For example, I would say “Our kid should probably drink water more often.” to my wife. Her response would be “She had a glass of water today!” in a defensive tone”. 

    The original intent was clearly a larger time scale, but the contradictory approach shortens the timeframe to bypass the purpose of the conversation. My wife does this a lot and she’s not being intentionally disruptive; it’s a mindset that she has and will acknowledge if I point it out.

  • GuyInPhilly

    I too sometimes fall in the devil’s advocate role, though most times it’s for reasons more nuanced than just wanting to right all the time, or just having to always disagree:
    1.  I know a couple people who constantly says ridiculous things that are clearly made up or over exaggerations, or that take outrageous positions on things (like when old people get sick we should just let them die because of the cost on the system).  In these situations, I feel inclined to be devil’s advocate, because I just can’t seem to let their “pointless lies” or outrageous positions go unattended.
    2.  Often I agree with someone on a point, but I also have my own perspective to add.  So I’ll say something like, “I agree with you, and I also think this…”  Sometimes this gets interpreted as always wanting to argue or telling someone they’re wrong, but I don’t feel that way.  If I don’t completely 100% agree with a statement, I feel justified in adding to the comment.  It doesn’t mean I think the original statement was not good, but I want to contribute to it.
    3.  Certainly, if someone says something that just isn’t true, I ought to voice disagreement.  I know that I sometimes come across as argumentative, but why should I just let wrong statements stand?  Should I just nod my and try to change the topic?
    4.  I happen to do a lot of research into my lifestyle choices.  I am vegan and an environmentalist, and I am both because of a great deal of research and reason.  Because of my veganism, I am used to people telling me I’m wrong.  So I guess I’ve developed a little bit of the need to constantly defend myself and to argue with others.
    5.  Yes, I enjoy a good debate.  But I also believe in trying to find consensus points, while also wanting my own contribution to be recognized.
    6.  And yes, sometimes I find myself just being contrarian.  But my brother is worse!  We will completely agree, and both voice the same positions, but somehow he just keeps on arguing.  I often have to tell him, “Why are you arguing with me?  We agree!”

  • slfisher

    The way I learned about the concept is from my boyfriend, who is one, but he described it in terms of “matchers,” who look for comonality, and “mismatchers,” who look for differences. I also have it to a certain degree; for me, it’s an occupational hazard, because I’m a journalist. We’re *supposed* to look for things like that. I am happy he taught me abut the concept because it helped me realize he wasn’t just being a dick; otherwise, I would have been forced to kill him by now. :)Here is a description of it: http://www.thebooksthatchangedmylife.com/2011/09/04/do-you-have-a-matcher-orand-mismatcher-attitude/I should mention I’m also perfectly capable of doing it to myself, which is why I quit journaling; I ended up in this rabbit hole of “On the one hand….on the other hand….am I doing it for this reason? what is my real motivation?” and never did anything else. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/lutz911 Gerald Lutz

    Holy Hell!  I’m so glad I came across this on Boingboing!  I know someone who does this quite a bit and I always felt like maybe I was the crazy one!  …required reading for them now AND then we’ll discuss. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/ieatlegos Blake Lowe

    You’re wrong.  

    Of course I’m kidding, but I did this a lot when I was in college and for a few years after.  I think it was the effect of being surrounded by opinions and being rewarded for standing out when you have a differing opinion.  I based all of my conversations around disagreement, from mildly playing devil’s advocate to just shutting down and saying “You’re wrong.”  The benefit of doing this for years was that I now can easily see multiple perspectives during a conversation, because I was typically disagreeing with myself when I was arguing with someone who actually had a reasonable point.  The negative side of this pattern is that I was a jackass for quite some time.  By now I really enjoy the arguments I get in because I only have them when they’re worth it, and I can let go of the circular arguments when I catch other people reverting to the patterns I used to have.  

  • http://blog.sina.com.cn/happywellness Paul

    Yes,OCS is a kind of “invalid happiness”! 
    (See “Be Happy Validly!”, page 14, 39. CreateSpace, Amazon)

  • http://bclund.com/ bclund

    A lot of times the “annoying A-hole” person in these conversations is trying to over compensate for their insecurities by showing how “right” they can be about everything.  I know because I used to be (okay, and sometimes still am) one of those people.

    It took me a long time to figure out that nobody likes to converse with a “know it all,” least of all hot chicks that I was interested in.  All they wanted to do was talk to the cool guy with the motorcycle, and tats, who never had a job, and…..well I digress.

    Suffice to say it’s a much better play to just be an attentive listener in these types of interactions, and save the adversarial attitude for after you get married.

  • http://twitter.com/XnontheistX Karl

    ” Everything is struggle, attack, defense, paranoia. … 
    Let them win. Disarm them. The best way to defeat a jealous god is to be pleasant to them.”

  • iknowyouarebutwhatami

    Yes, I have friends that have OCS.  This trait has NOTHING to do with facts.  It is only a type of one upsmanship.  People do this to assert personal dominance.  I once ignored someone who did this on a regular basis to see what would happen.  Eventually everything that came out of their mouth became a put-down, often using friendly humor to  to mask their real emotional need.  I have found that people who have OCS are shallow, fear that life is escaping them, never have a romantic relationship and feel their station in life is beneath their “true worth”.  This is an emotional / mental problem.  It has NOTHING to do with facts or intellect.  Oh, and by the way, intellect is over rated.  What does “smart” do for you or anyone else if you are emotionally insane?

  • Ra2000

    This is a fascinating conversation. 

    Just to add another perspective here, I have a brother-in-law that begins his every conversational response with; “Ya, no”. This precedes both confrontational and non-confrontational responses.

    Even though he seems to do it unconsciously and despite the fact that we all should be used to it by now – it always knocks you off-balance and hijacks the conversation. My guess is that’s the unconscious intention because it automatically focuses all attention on him. The unfortunate outcome, though, is that regardless of what follows the inarguable “ya, no”, the previously flowing talk grinds to an uncomfortable halt.

  • wrong

    I just had an argument with my partner yesterday about this yesterday. Everything i say seems to be answered with a “you can’t” or “it won’t” or some other negative come back. At the risk of starting another argument I might just be forwarding her your article :º∂

  • wrong

    I just had an argument with my partner about this yesterday. Everything I say, seems to be answered with a “you can’t” or “it won’t” or some other negative come back, seemingly just to disagree with me. At the risk of starting another argument I might just be forwarding her your article :º∂

  • Linda

    Hi Gretchen – Let me say first that I really enjoy your work.
    I first read this post about a week ago and have been meaning to come back to it. It is a pattern I recognized in myself quite a long time ago and felt I developed some insight into studying NLP. I found the topic of metaprograms fascinating. I don’t know if you’ve looked into it. But in short its how people sort the word and learn. I would call your OCS, “mismatching”. For me, I found it an unconscious natural response, especially in intimate relationships. It is not a very useful or happiness nurturing practice in that context. Now that I have more conscious awareness of my process I can choose to disengage from this natural tendency to create more harmonious relationships in my life.
    I think we all have natural tendencies and learning strategies that once we develop some insight into them, we can use them in more positive purposeful ways to nurture our own happiness and create our worlds we want to live in. It was a big “ah ha!” for when while thrashing through the murky water of a very acrimonious divorce from a long term marriage, when I decided I wanted to be happy. Seems simple enough but I guess prior to this moment I hadn’t framed what that meant for me. Mismatching wasn’t helping me in this context; however I think as a child it was a very good learning strategy. For me it wasn’t about arguing, it was moreover an unconsious response I had no control over. May I also say, that I cannot bear arguing, so the response was causing me a great deal of pain in my adult life. I am glad now to not have it overpowering my life.

  • JB is me

    my mother has this style of conversation. i find it…exhausting? draining? soul-crushing? stifling of any possibility of genuine communication and connection? she is an adult child of an alcoholic, so i’ve often attributed this aspect of her personality to her chronic feeling of needing to assert control in a world that feels chaotic. my husband has noted that my mom will blatantly contradict herself – essentially changing her own position on something she just emphatically asserted – in order to oppose whatever her conversation partner has just said. it can seem, at times, like having a conversation with someone who suffers from multiple personality disorder and who has just “switched” personalities internally. but i like the idea that different people do it for different reasons… unfortunately, in my mom’s case, it has the effect of making me feel not patronized exactly, but…simply erased.

  • http://www.facebook.com/halinagold.dk Halina Goldstein

    You know, I used to do it. I still do it, but now the motivation has changed, from oppositional to integrative.

    The thing is that some of us are blessed/cursed ;-) with a distinct tendency to view the world from more than one perspective. In that experience, when someone presents you with one specific point of view also inspires other, equally valid, points of view. Not better, not more right – just complementary. Like, if someone says: the world is black and white, I react with: “Yes it is, I can see that. And, there are also all the other colors.”

    I notice that when my motivation changed people’s reactions changed accordingly. In the oppositional period I would often get the opposition right back. In the present integrative approach it becomes an experience of mutual joy / inspiration / integrating different perspective.

  • alandean

    I’m OCS on certain topics. I recently had dinner with a friend that asserted abortion was illegal in southern states. I was stupefied by his assertion. Even looking it up on Google didn’t sway him. He asserted the wiki entry was wrong. Now, I don’t doubt I’m OCS. But an OCS person needs to be across the table from another OCS person to really be effective. If the person across the table just changes the topic, then the OCS person has noplace to go. So, if you have a friend that you think is a big OCS person, look in the mirror. He feeds on you. You are both OCS.

  • Bill McGee

    My father was like this to the point of absurdity and I don’t believe it’s as innocent as it is thought to be. If it is sunny, he says “no its not. If the food is spicy, he says “no its not”. I you say you feel tired, he will say “no you don’t”. It is constantly annoying and predictable and in essence trying to provoke a fight. He did it to family and friends all the time but funny how I never saw him do it to those he had no familiarity with. It is a pure dominance thing. If he made a mistake like making a left turn instead of a right, he would scream and threaten to crash the car killing everyone in it, insisting he made a right and insisting we agree with him. You could say it is mental illness, you could say it is a coping strategy, you could say whatever. I see a petulant child, a miserable person trying to hurt others to make himself feel good.

  • Nerp

    When I get tired or in a bad mood, my tendency towards this comes out more, and I have to remind myself that I’m communicating to the other person that I’m a buttwipe. I do not like being on the receiving end of such a style, and it prompts a competitive/anxious urge in me, making me want to demonstrate that I can be more contrarian and more dick-ish than the person who is doing it to me. Unfortunately, I am very good at it when I choose, so it is never a satisfying outcome.

    i thionk one thing that people miss is that the person engaging in this style is responding to a feeling of positional insecurity on their part (ie they feel they have something interpersonal to lose if they agree: e.g. status, perception of expertise, dominance etc. ). The solution to it, is as you recognise: conversational skill. Divert, engage, explore.

  • lifeknight

    I recently had a HUGE argument with a dear friend of 15 years. It was rooted in politics and we both should have avoided the conflict (at least the raging part). I did fell attacked first, but 15 years of pent up anger was unleashed. I don’t think it was a style I have cultivated, but suffice it to say that in the end I was not proud of myself and we agreed to never have that type of discussion again.

    I did come to a realization, however. How I believe and the core of my being had been attacked for many years by this “friend”. The derrogatory, yet kindly put, comments had really bothered me. It was the culmination of all these smaller things that came to a head in that one discussion.

    I wish I had had the insight to stop her in times past when something hurtful was said in passing.

    Although we have tried to patch up our friendship, it will never be the same. I am OK with that.

  • antal

    I had a friend whose a flatmate was the epitome of a contrary converationalist ; it was ridiculous!!! Anything that was said he’d contradict. For a laugh me and my friend started playing a game where if he disagreed about something, we’d bring up the topic a little later but take an opposing stance.. and guess what? 99% of the time he’d disagree with the very thing he’d just agreed with! The guy was by no means unpleasent or malicious but I think he actually got some sort of peverse kick out of being disagreeable!! In the end we found a rather amusing way to deal with it was to always agree with every last comment he made because he would constantly have to keep changing his stance to remain in disgreement. I know it was perhaps a little mean to mock him, but it made the conversations with him a lot more agreeable, (and on some level I think he quite liked it).

  • antal

    Also meant to add there’s a book that kind of touches upon this theme (although I think Gretchin has defined it better here), it’s called “How to Have a Beautiful Mind” and it’s by Edward De Bono. If you do feel like your possibly falling into an OSC trap it talks about ways around it. I forget the exact term he uses but basically the whole book is about ways to improve your conversational style and thus make yourself more attractive and agreeable.

  • Pokey

    My best friend is OCS. I only see him once a year and recently I’ve seen a huge change in my desire to be around him. I am so excited to make the visit and shortly after I get there, I begin to wonder why I go to the trouble and expense to fly 1500 miles to be treated like someone he dislikes. There is no pleasing him since everything I say and do is wrong, even if I am right.
    I am so glad to discover that this is characteristic that he may or may not even be aware of in himself. I have noticed that I am not the only one he does this to. He is so intolerant of his family members that I get really weary of his attitude towards them.
    He is a very gifted and tallented person but a royal pain to be around. He gets wonderful jobs but it’s always someone else’s fault that he quits or gets fired.
    Thank you for this opportunity to vent. Hopefully I will be more tolerant of him going forward.

  • @elizabethcraft

    Eek. I do this all the time. It’s a tic so I’m usually not even aware of it. In my mind it’s just my way of making sure the conversation is lively (or if I don’t know people a way of trying to establish my personality). But I realized years ago it’s annoying as hell.

  • @elizabethcraft

    Oh yeah, my friends call it “being contrary.”

  • Guest

    i would like to practice in someway, to open up because i think about it too much instead of doing some talking

  • Jose Flores

    I would like to practice in someway to do this because it would help me speak up more instead of just staying quiet, that and i would like to know how can i become more talkative for my job’s sake lol some would help me greatly

  • Gina

    My fiance and I kept on getting into fights all of the time. We were close to breaking up a few times. I knew that we needed something to stay together because he was pulling away from me day by day. Dr. Ogun from Templeofloveandmoney@gmail.com really helped us stay together and become a closer couple. He did a love binding spell that worked perfectly! He started making more of an effort to talk to me about how he was feeling which helped us work through our problems so much better. My fiance tends to shut down whenever there is conflict and this spell helped him communicate with me. I can also tell that he is more attracted to me because he keeps sending me flowers at work and is always trying to touch me in some way. It’s actually really nice and I am very grateful to Dr. Ogun and his temple at Templeofloveandmoney@gmail.com for all that he have done for me!

  • willardexe

    So, revered by his peers the protagonist of high rank extols
    the virtues of his wisdom on the uninformed. They in turn without exception praise
    his remarks.

    For me that is infinitely less desirable than the person
    who questions and tests the evidence.

    “The Emperor Has No Clothes “and perhaps someone ought
    to tell him?

    Having established the former, the question moves to that
    of degree? How argumentative is too argumentative, and what measure can rightly
    establish that proposition? Regrettably, it appears that the world needs
    everything labelled including human beings, in this case OCS. Imagine if we
    were all the same, all thought the same. Don’t complain that we are all
    different, rejoice in the fact.

    Not only does it take all types to make a world, it needs
    all types to make a world.

    What some consider a burden, I consider an asset, not
    without cost, but an asset nevertheless.

  • Crystal

    I know exactly what you mean. There is a woman I work with and she does this and in her cases it seems that she does it to exert dominance. And it is extremely tiring.

  • Guest

    Wow.
    So what happens when someone with a service heart is in a relationship with someone with oppositional conversational style? I usually ignore when my S.O. contradicts me, and i think that makes her happy, but I mentioned it to her one time last week and we’ve been fighting about it since. I keep apologizing, but she keeps saying that she doesn’t know if my apology is real or if i’m just “service heart-ing…”

  • terryyrret

    I think a lot of people will take the opposite view simply because they feel threatened by the other persons intellect or intelligence. I think its an attempt at controlling or bullying, and usually practiced by people who, putting it plainly, don’t really have much of a clue about the subject being discussed.

  • Donna

    I know exactly what you mean. I have a friend that I’ve started going on “field trips” with. We go to galleries together to look ar art as artists ourselves. I told her one time I liked a particular famous artist and she is constantly bringing it up and debating my choice. She brings it up out of the blue and even brought me a magazine where the guy got a scathing review. I can’t believe the effort put into proving my taste wrong. I just keep stating that we are all different but she keeps bullying me. I find this very tiring and have noticed her pouncing on other topics. I’m wondering why she does this and how long I can put up with this behavior.

    • Joe

      Maybe she is not bulling you but instead is trying to make sure that you are sure in your choice, or she knows that you have things to say about this topic and thats why she keeps bringing it up.

    • Working Mom in Canada

      I have experienced OCS in two distinct and entirely different situations: with my 14 yr old son and my immediate boss who works 2000 km away. Whoa –bullying is the correct term for my boss. Very unproductive and frustrating. But for my son, he’s an ambitious, bright, energetic teen who is trying to prove himself, albeit he can be stubborn! So, I cut him a lot of slack even when my patience is thin. But for my boss, it’s bullish behaviour that is NOT acceptable.

      • gretchenrubin

        I think this may be a trait in many teens which is fortunately temporary – about them testing themselves and other people.

        • Le Chic

          I don’t know if this behavior may be something that is becoming popular and might be something else, but actually, in my case the person I know is much older and has done this for years.

    • Le Chic

      Exactly.. it is unbelievable.. it’s unnecessary and exhausting for them to do this. And why would anyone care if another likes the work a particular artist or not? As you say, we have our own tastes. Life and communication was not meant to be this difficult.

      This is a bit different point, but I recall stating to another that I was seeing a concert. Right away, they asked “WHY?.. are they still performing?” (a popular duo). Later, when that same person was seeing a group whose music I did not care much for, I just wished them a good time. I don’t see the point of being rude.. like if someone feels free to say “I don’t like your boyfriend”, but expects you to like theirs. If I don’t care for another’s partner, I just make myself scarce.

    • ronu

      Its one of the tools for bullys and emotional abusers(sometimes they do it knowingly but most times unknowingly). I have a spouse like that and it almost ruined our relationship. I did a lot of reading on this personality type and has helped me. When he starts I tell him to is face that he started and I am going to end the conversation if he starts nitpicking my opinions. Then he calms down a bit, sorry I am using the words “calm down”

    • Le Chic

      I say, get out while you can, it’s not worth it. As I read here, it seems that it may be that it comes from something established early on, and they become rooted in the habit of being oppositional. I cannot imagine the reward in doing that.

  • Don

    I have felt that OCS people are responding simply out of a “habit” of expressing the contrary view of what is said. When they were younger, they were rewarded for being able to present the opposite side of a perspective. That activity/reward triggered a chemical release and after a while it simply became a habit (albeit a bad-habit).
    One approach is to simply ignore the first thing that comes out of the mouths of OCS people or accept that they are innocently (through their bad habit) providing a level of moderation to the conversation. They are not looking for debate or to harm your perspective, instead, they are simply exhibiting a bad habit.
    I try not to take their initial comments as sincere and I certainly don’t bother getting into a debate based on their reactive comments. (Secretly, instead of reacting, I spend a moment being thankful that I don’t have that bad habit! I have enough of my own already.)

    • Sue

      You’re response to the problem these people have in communicating does make sense. I don’t think most are purposely trying to be so annoying. It’s just so hard when it’s someone you have to talk to every day and it pops up when you least expect it…or even worse you shut up and say nothing because you do expect it :(

      • Mocha Kodak
  • KMitch

    I think some people feel a need to be acknowledged when they find that something isn’t quite right to them, so they make a clear point of being correct so that they feel better about themselves. I think this kind of social behavior may be an insecurity issue.

    • Galeschmit

      I know a guy who constantly does this to me. This man has maybe one friend. But he has to force himself on people like joining organizations. This is because people can’t stand him because of his repulsive personality. He also has never had a girl friend and he’s an older guy.

    • Le Chic

      I think it does stem from some insecurity issue. They don’t feel good unless they are in control.

  • Joe

    I do this, often too. As, to why, I’m not entirely sure however in the past I have gotten in trouble because I had let something that wasn’t quite right slip past or have lost debates because I allowed a oversight of some detail, so now I seem to make sure that everything is just how I see it should be. In certain instances I have used it to dominate another person, but this is very tiring an I don’t do it often, it is more so used as, like you said, a way of drawing along the conversation. If we all agreed what would there be to talk about?

    • Arpg*Freak

      every Human on the face of the planet has been known at some time in life or will be for having done this & i would bet that ya’ll who are saying He/She “always does this to me” are playing the victim card and most likely exaggerating the hell out of the situation just because it annoys you that somebody could know something you don’t or the blow to the ego from being corrected either way grow up or learn to communicate effectively, you probaly do do it too. It always takes two.

    • Le Chic

      Well, at least you are aware you are doing something. Maybe you are not really like those we’ve described, because with them it seems they are unaware of being so caustic and that it is an affliction, unlike just having a debate. I do think people can and do communicate without arguing, which I have always done, just not with this relative.

  • Boo

    This is funny! My husband just last night did this and I realize he does it all the time. In a conversation with friends we were all thinking of movies ”Cher” starred in. I said, ”Moonstruck and the one where she was a mom and the son had Elephant man.” Before I would get the words out he was loudly talking over me and says almost in a shout, ” No, that’s wrong its Moonstruck and Mask!”

    • Boo

      did not know it was called ”OCS”!!!

    • Sue

      YES!! If you don’t use their exact words, you are wrong!

      • jimbob

        Exactly that! It’s like they can’t hear what you’re saying unless you cherry pick the precise words from their mind!

  • Andy

    My wife does this pretty much constantly. I really can’t understand why people do it, I find it annoying in the extreme. There is no such thing as a friendly banter with her. It’s argue or stay silent. Why do people do this? It’s getting to the point where I am considering a separation.

    • Sue

      Exactly, Andy! It’s just no fun when you can’t have a satisfying back and forth in conversation. I always feel blunted and put down, then all of a sudden find my self on the defensive and wonder where the hell did this come from?? Then, I just shut up.

      • Le Chic

        Exactly.. you are put in a position to have to make your point, respond defensively. Yes, this type cannot have a regular conversation. I find that even on the phone with the person I described, within a short time, the opposite is stated – and I will think “Here we go…” and I had no intention of arguing. I have found I’ve begun bracing myself for the inevitable reaction. Honestly, I feel I would give this relationship up, if not a relative.

        • J.M.P

          I agree with you. It is the basic “I’m right your wrong conversation.” When both parties practice this type of conversation all you can expect is a fight. You were talking about relatives in this conversation. You are right. I came home mentally exhausted after having a “conversation” with my mother. It is now to the point I will interact with her just by phone and if my husband is with me for a one on one conversation.

          • Le Chic

            I don’t blame you at all. (I would have responded earlier, but I didn’t know there were responses until now).

    • Patricia

      “WOW”!!!! I have been going through this with my husband (you will not believe how many years it has been) .. he actually attacks everything ASAP, then begins with the “You are trying to have your Way statement, and you’re right and I am wrong” every little thing is punctuated in debate and anger, and are you calling me a liar, you’re accusing me”! I am convinced that psychiatric help is not the answer and he knows what he is doing, I am filing for divorce, thanks so much for this page of sharing.

      • Amfly Nhi

        If you love her let her have it nikka it don’t even matter.

  • RoxyWrites

    I experience this occasionally, and as far as I can tell, only with individuals who do not like me or who find my very high energy abrasive. I also find this comes from individuals who spend a significant time talking negatively about their life, health, and all of the woes and injustices being visited upon them. If I establish the person converses like this as their primary style, I remain only an acquaintance and avoid conversation with them unless I cannot do so without hurting someone else or being rude. In that case, I often don’t respond with anything that would lead to further conversation, or I will respond noncommittally with “oh?” or a shrug or eyebrow raise. I’m not sure that’s the best way to handle this, but being noncommittal seems to be my default way of handling it.

    In addition to the behavior you describe, I am often on the receiving end of the command “calm down” in response to my energy and enthusiasm. Since I’m in my 40s and it’s usually another adult saying this to me, it always occurs to me as condescending or patronizing, and yet comical. Yes, children are high energy, and I’ve never lost that. I’m very much a hummingbird, Peter Pan type. There is a distinct difference between being childish and being “childlike.” I’ve chosen to be the latter. Being told to calm down used to annoy me. Some individuals interpret enthusiasm and energy as if it were emotional upset rather than zest for life. Perhaps they don’t know how to respond to enthusiastic expression, and telling someone to calm down is what comes to their mind first? It’s not very generous of me to say, but I often feel that something more intelligent and accurate than “calm down” could probably be expressed by them instead. I usually answer with “No, thank you. I’m a high energy person with a lot of enthusiasm. I enjoy expressing myself.”

  • Sue

    Wow! I feel better already stumbling upon this! My husband, who incidentally other than this conversational “style”, is a good guy, does this constantly. Because he disagrees with nearly everything I say, no matter how insignificant my comment, it has put a terrible wedge between us. There is no give and take in conversation. When I say anything, he comes back with a no…or not really…and proceeds to “correct” me. People have called him a know-it-all and that greatly upset him. He clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing and that it is so annoying. I asked him the other day if he realized he corrects everything I say. his response…”No, you do that”. Argh! It’s not even important things he disagrees with/corrects me about. He just feels the need to say the opposite of what I do. I don’t know how to get him to see what he does, but at least it is nice to see this is a real condition of sorts.

    • Rosemary

      I have been having lunch and phone conversations with someone I have known most of my life for a short while. I always go away frustrated. If I my doctor who performed extensive surgery on my rotator, which now has 4 stainless anchors in it told me not to do any exercise that included the butterfly exercise machine so as not to dislodge one particular anchor. I question and answer sessions then begins with all kinds of facial expressions as if I am someone who just says, Okay, Doc. This is just one example. Every word out of my mouth even though it is just in conversation is immediately questioned and then I am told what I should do. It is driving me crazy. I don’t want to be a JERK, but you know with some people, that is what it takes. OR—— perhaps he just wouldn’t get why I am becoming so annoyed. God help me.

    • DonO

      Share this article.. with him

      • Mocha Kodak

        I would but he’d disagree he has these traits lol. Ill have record every conversation prior to showing him this. &&& might still try to correct me

        • robert james

          yeah i agree somebody who does this would just deny it completely… its part of the ignorance.

    • daisyjj

      Here are some ideas to play with… Respond back with something like, “Hmm, I’ll think about that” or “Hmm, maybe you’re right” (if you think so) or “That’s an interesting perspective”. You could also find out if he’s expressing his real opinion or just being contrary by saying something you know he DOES believe is true & see if he argues with that.

    • Mocha Kodak

      If i was to read this before i commented. I wouldn’t have … you couldn’t describe it anymore better. Lol like you caught us on a camera… oh here the other one “THAT’S NOT TRUE”

  • Pretoria

    SARAH
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  • Erica

    The reason I even found this is because my husband does this all the time and I couldn’t really put my finger on it until this morning, then I decided to look it up and found this page. I believe he does it because he may have some inferiority complex? I have more education then he does and a better salary. I don’t care because he knows way more about art and history then I probably ever will. He seems to WANT to know everything. I happen to know a lot because I am always looking to learn something new. His knowledge seems to be based on himself, no actual research or even a casual poll of friends. He just thinks that whatever he thinks is right. Where I never assume I’m right until I can find several sources to back me up. It is very wearing on the nerves and many times just nod my head and say, “ok.” But it is annoying as all hell!

    • Kris

      Inno, I think people with OCS are probably psychopaths to some degree or another.

    • Ginger

      You wrote word for word what I would have, minus I stay at home and homeschool our kids. lol

  • Chris

    I don’t like this article because I can’t fully relate to it, for me it’s not about being right, it’s about the other person being right, I feel obligated to share correct information, and that’s all that matters to me, I take no heed into how other people perceive my attitude in addition to their lack of intellectual priority (KNOWING THE TRUTH) makes me look bad because half the time they don’t care about the things they are talking about they are just assholes, wrong assholes. I will ask questions usually in the form of hyperbole to the people who I oppose to get them to doubt their beliefs and reinforce it with facts + my personal experience. It depends on how informed their statement was which gave me the impression that they were uninformed & just plain WRONG. There’s a lot of stupid people who could use my help, that’s how I feel, like I am somehow doing everyone a public service, but as long as my information is correct & heard, I don’t care (this might be a lie, my ego is part of the problem, I prefer people to actually realize valuable information when it’s literally put on display for them). The act of providing information useful in teaching people things (ANY things, regardless of whether I actually know anything about it because I read 300+ wpm and collect reliable information and citations from the web with impressive finesse) makes me believe my information is always valuable because I am constantly learning.

    • Loco

      Yeah but you need to be aware how exhausting and damaging it is to be on the end of this kind of attitude. Sometimes friends require empathy, not a bruising.

    • jacuzzigirl

      While constantly learning is a great attribute, it is the way in which you relay this to other people that might be the real issue. From your own words:

      • Jacuzzigurl

        I feel obligated to share correct information, and that’s all that matters to me, I take no heed into how other people perceive my attitude in addition to their lack of intellectual priority (KNOWING THE TRUTH) makes me look bad because half the time they don’t care about the things they are talking about they are just assholes, wrong assholes *Oh my word. Why do you feel obligated? What gives you the right to judge another person’s “lack of intellectual priorities”? It SHOULD make you look bad because you are coming across like a pompous a**. will ask questions usually in the form of hyperbole to the people who I oppose to get them to doubt their beliefs and reinforce it with facts + my personal experience * Why do you feel it is your job to get people to doubt their beliefs and ( of course) adopt YOUR personal experience? It depends on how informed their statement was which gave me the impression that they were uninformed & just plain WRONG. *Naturally, it is YOU who determines whether someone is informed or not. There’s a lot of stupid people who could use my help, that’s how I feel, like I am somehow doing everyone a public service, but as long as my information is correct & heard, * Doing everyone a public service? You are equating your behavior to say delivering hot meals to seniors. WOW. And I thought you gave no heed how others perceive your attitude yet require your information to be heard.

  • Sam

    I agree. Finally I’ve found something that explains it! Thank you

  • girlinhell

    Its part and parcel to being narcissistic.

  • Emmy

    I have a very close friend who does this to me all the time. She constantly makes me feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I seriously cant’t take it anymore. She has now made me doubt myself. The last 2 times i visited, I got in my car and cried bc I was so upset. I think I keep trying bc we share the same passion for a hobby. I’ve done a crazy amount of things for her, way above and beyond. Not to toot my own horn, but I am an awesome friend. I don’t know what to do. I want to put myself in the same situation and see if she does this to me. It has been something she has always done, but now its really bad. I don’t want to cut her out of my life, but why do this to myself?

    • Kris

      Find a different friend, and research “psychopaths”.

  • Le Chic

    I’m glad I found a description and explanation for this conversational style.. I have wondered if it was a style or actually a mental issue. I have a relative who does this and it is endless and exhausting, from a few minutes after greeting each other through the entire time afterward. It doesn’t matter if we are commenting on a car in the next lane or something serious. And as stated by the author, I too get the impression that if I ever stated the opposite of what I originally stated, then THAT would automatically be opposed. It is apparently the act of OPPOSING which makes people like this happy. I don’t even know if they know they are habitually doing this. Always saying or doing the opposite, being right no matter what… never agreeing with me.. not “That’s true” or “You’re right”. I’ve never known anyone else who does this.

    Well, I cannot stand it.. and honestly, I end up spending time afterward trying to come down off this interaction whenever we are together.. and analyzing their need to do so, which is what brought me here.

    • Des

      Ditto ditto omg that is why I hiked for an hour and sitting in my car dreading the oc house guest. Over the phone you can cut then short. In person is grating antagonistic and they are deaf even if you agree to their negative assertion and crap on everyone’s dreams

      • Le Chic

        Yes, it is so hard to deal with. I don’t know if they are aware they are being so difficult. I often wonder if she does this with everyone or if it is just me – if she has a “filter” with others or not.

    • Mocha Kodak

      I say to him everyday. .”Let’s agree to disagree and move on.” He disagrees with that

      • Le Chic

        Oh, boy, sounds like fun. I have felt that if I had to go through this daily, I wouldn’t survive.

      • SkipAbeat

        I know right, It’s like the world revolves around him and he’s the only person who has the right answer.

  • Joe

    A close member of my family does this constantly. It is exhausting. I found this blog post while searching for a description of her behavior because I hoped I could find some suggestions for dealing with it. Other members of the family have commented that they just started agreeing with her out of habit to end the conversation, but then she’d just go and contradict her first statement and argue for that. It’s sad, really, because no one really listens to her anymore. She prattles on endlessly and no one else even bothers to contribute to the conversation. She also exaggerates a lot. I’m not sure why she does this, but I know her son used to do it too before someone pointed it out to him and he realized that what he was doing was rude. No one knows how to approach her about this without it being taken in the wrong way. She is a lovely woman in so many ways, but this habit is seriously damaging her relationships.

  • Chris

    I know several people who do this and, to Sue’s comment, they will also say that I’m the one who needs to be right all the time. I know for a fact I am not the one correcting or opposing their additions to the conversation. I find my time with these individuals VERY draining and to the point that I want to limit my exposure almost completely. But, that seems rather reactive…

    The first step in any change is awareness. How can we make Oppositional Conversationalists aware of their “style”?

    • Kris

      You can’t, your dealing with psychopaths. It is better to not engage them, or if your really bored, trick them into looking stupid because of their adherence to OCS(toying with a psychopath is dangerous though and not recommended).

  • Henry Westwood

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  • Suzi

    My coworker does this and almost every conversation I have with her leaves me feeling annoyed and irritated. I mentioned that Apple stock split and she says… that happened 3 days ago. It’s like she’s always trying to make me look bad. I asked her once to let my boss know that I had to stop at the bank on my way in to the office. I found out later that what she said to him was that I was running late. She also seems to be a major know-it-all. She automatically knows about everything. I went to a social security talk where they had an expert speak about the ins and outs of social security and when to start collecting it etc. I mentioned something I had learned from the seminar and she said that no, that was wrong. I confronted her saying no, this person is an expert on this so I don’t think you know what you are talking about. Then if you print out and show her that she’s wrong she doesn’t want to look at anything that might make her wrong. Gosh it’s so annoying! Sometimes I just want to be heard and empathized with but she most often will proceed with “well, I would have done it this way” or “you should….” She also seems to engage in what I call conversational narcissism. She turns everything around so the conversation becomes about her. For example, I’ll say I did blah, blah this past weekend and feel good about getting that done. She’ll jump right in and say what she did and will always divert the attention so that it’s on her. She also often engages in one-upmanship… no matter what it is hers is worse, like if I complain that I am tired she goes on and on with how she only gets 3 hours of sleep a night and hasn’t been a good sleeper since she was little. I’ve been tempted to ask her what her intention is when she goes off with “Well, I would have done it this way.”

    • Kris

      Sounds like my bro inlaw, who is a psychopath. You have to understand, psychopaths make up a larger chunk of the population than people are comfortable to admit. Psychopaths use OCS as a mechanism of dominance and control.

    • Le Chic

      Oh, this sounds just like what I experience. It is PAINFUL. I’ve stated how I’ve felt at times, when all the “comparisons”start. You cannot just be who you are or have the right to feel as you do or be accepted or agreed with. Other people just agree or sympathize… but with them, it’s exhausting. I think there should be a “recovery group” for people like this, but first they would need to admit they have a problem.

  • Man

    My husband does this. Sometimes he asks me a question that he already has an answer too just to tell me his answer after I tell him what I think. He loves to teach people new skills. It does make me very tired… of course I love him. Love does not keep a record of offenses.

  • billy

    To take it one step further, sometimes a person will adopt a tone of contradiction while presenting a point that isn’t actually a contradiction. I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in confronting people like this with their conversational style though. I pointed it out to someone once and he got defensive and acted like I was the one with a problem. I’ve witnessed him adopt this contradictory position with multiple people though, and I think that’s the only bit of confirmation I can expect to get. Thank you for sharing your observation, without it I might have thought I was crazy.

  • Roger

    So what do I do?

    If I say: “You seem to be disagreeing with everything I say”.
    The response is: “No I’m not”.

    Which proves the point, but in this case, being right doesn’t help move the conversation forward.

    Also, I feel like some questions require me to explain myself. But when I begin to explain, am accused of being defensive. I don’t feel like I’m defending myself, just answering questions. So, how do you defend yourself against the accusation of being defensive? Feels like a catch 22 and it’s frustrating because I can’t figure out how to get out of the circle.

    Moreover, when I try to express this, my wife will say something like: “I have to deal with people at work treating me like I’m being a bitch every day, and then I get it at home too?”

    I feel so stuck. HELP!?

    • Le Chic

      My sympathies. This is painful. I know, it forces a person to feel defensive, when they were not attempting to argue in the first place. It is very difficult and I believe these people need help, but don’t know it. They make the “normal” communicator feel crazy and this shouldn’t happen. I am aware that after communicating with other people, I am not left feeling drained and frustrated.

  • rick

    wow for me too, i seem to be encountering this alot lately, it has made me question my own thoughts and actions, wondering if there is something wrong with me. great article!!

  • Brooke

    Amen to that!… All of this is *exactly how I feel- with someone I see every-day.. Yes I so wish we could just have normal back&forth, pleasant banter..? But no, that’s impossible- they’ll find a way to argue an opposite point to that idea.. I cant stand it anymore man. the only thing I can think to do now is to try my best to ignore them. This sucks because it’s someone close in my life who I Love,, and ‘ignoring’ someone is not a natural, comfortable thing I ever do! … But with their ‘Oppositional Conversation Style’ ..what choice do I have? You know they wont listen to anything.. ;[ =(

  • randomREtard

    I do this.. I think the reason i do this is because i believe that X is better than Y, but i also agree that Y is better than X… It just depends how i choose to think about it.. We have a word in norwegian for looking at things in different ways, the word is “tvesyn”, and i think i have too much “tvesyn”…

    Some people have become really angry at me for doing this, but after i spend 5 minutes explaining 4 different views on the same subject and why i agree and disagree with all of them they usually just stop talking to me…..

    I consider “tvesyn” too be my superpower and my curse…

    (Directly translated i think “tvesyn” would be “multiview”)

  • Mocha Kodak

    I “what feel better ” my boyfriend of 3months. I compose my temper EACH AND EVERY SINGLE TIME I choose to blurt out what ever I’m thinking about. It could be like when we first started dating he’d say “I really would like to go to that restaurant one day.” (Geraft’s) so weeks later he’s like where would you like to go eat today? -Me”How about that restaurant you were siked out about. .. you remember Geraft’s?” -BF” LOL YOUR KIDDING ME RIGHT I’D NEVER EAT THERE.
    Or how about this one. #BF-“Bbe what you thinking?” #ME-“Really feeling down today. Lot going on my life just down.” #BF-“Nah your wrong because your always happy. I dout that theres anything wrong with you” man i can not count how many conversations went like this. But i cannot count how many different. At first I got to thinking maybe he’s a control freak. Like it’s a crime to have an opinion. It could be over the littlest things like maybe take turns at telling a joke he’d fake a laugh and correct the entire joke i just told him. It’s crazy that he cant agree with any sound that comes out of my mouth. Lol and when he gets bit in the donkey when you you could say “I TOLD YOU SO” but before i cant process the thought in my head he’s still disagreeing with what i said. Oh and when we do argue. I could have said omg im done! He’d reply why ? Before i get to say anythig hes jumping down my throat with these following words … NO! NO! NO NO NO! BUT SEE THIS IS WHERE YOUR WRONG AT. LET ME TELL YOU HOW YOUR WRONG, YOU KNOW HOW I KNOW YOUR WRONG!
    #omg i just turned 23 i hate to live my life like this july,August, Sept… and havent agreed on anything. Hes 10years older then i am thats why i figured it was a contro thing. I go most days thiking I’m not too screwed tight. Then I figured maybe he just dosent like me “like that” so to make me feel beneath him he has to correct everything when almost all of the time the conversation wasnt on a correcting subject know what i mean? Omg and he hates to let me know i was right when i really was right.

    • Le Chic

      I think you should give this up. As they say, “there are plenty of other fish in the sea”.

    • Loco

      Run away. Fast.

  • Jose

    I recognize this in other people, specifically my mom. She is a control freaks and sometimes it rubs off on me, my little brother is starting to take on her personality and the way that she communicates and talks to me as well. She ALWAYS has to be right and just simply doesn’t know how to really have a conversation but then again neither do I lol, I never really stay on topic and when I do talk to people in real life I try to be as friendly as possible even if my expressions say other wise lol. I’m glad that I’m not around her for too much though because I notice that a lot of people end up following in the foot steps of their parents or people that they truly looked up to and admired. It’s funny that at my age, 23, I still look up to cartoon characters and things that I still find appealing. I feel like I’m writing an essay, lol… Anyways, yes, if I do across people like this that aren’t my mom, I’ll try to be as polite as possible. Actually! Let me add one more thing, it could be possible that a person could be under a lot of stress and doesn’t know how to take that stress out and so they could unconsciously be taking out their stress on you without being that aware of their actions/speech.

  • Kay Walker

    I recognise this from many people I have encountered both at work and in general social situations; some just oppositional ratbags who delight in arguing and others where it’s a habit. However, the latest example has been devastating for me. A close friend, whom I think has Asperger’s syndrome, has cut me out of his life because he thinks I have publicly revealed some private information. I didn’t do that at all, but the way the words were close to each other made him think I both did the deed and that I didn’t respect his ‘scolding’ me the first time! I was merely pointing out that I had a different meaning for what he defined and did not want to argue at all. It’s been months and he still believes I blatantly aired his ‘secrets’ and I am bad and untrustworthy! I don’t mind if people have different opinions on anything to me. I still like to remain friends and agree to disagree, eg. I’m an atheist but I think it’s fine for people to believe in a deity as long as they don’t want me to believe. There’s certainly no happiness in this situation!

  • Faye

    I googled this tonight as my sister is like this and I’m trying to understand why. As far back as I can remember she has made it her mission to oppose pretty much anything I offer up and her tone interchanges between either condescending correction or being offended. Needless to say our relationship is strained and we are not close. It’s still tough trying to hold a conversation with her because of this and I rarely feel comfortable when talking to her.

    I see this a lot in online forums too like Facebook, where people feel more comfortable opposing anything and everything under the sun from the safety of their arm-chairs. Post anything on Facebook these days (short of your child’s photo) and one of your friends is bound to pipe up with a novella on what’s inherently ‘wrong’ or short-sighted with what you’ve posted, even if it’s just a recipe!

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Guest

    Thank you for this article….and yes, I have experienced this with a few people in my lifetime.
    As you mentioned, it is extremely exhausting and annoying. Sometimes, I am just making small talk and out of no where, I am wrong.
    I am not 100% sure if everyone who does this is aware, but I feel as though the people I have encountered are.
    I always felt that it was my passive personality in which they took advantage of.

  • Miranda

    I think the phrase I keep seeing again and again is “It’s just exhausting” and it truly is. I deal w a guy who is like this and there are days where I dread conversations with him bc he’s almost looking for a fight. He joins conversations he’s not part of and says things just to be contrary. It’s exhausting and annoying. I think he sees himself as intellectually superior to everyone else around him (untrue) but I resent the fact that if I don’t defend myself, if I say “Let’s just agree to disagree” he totally says That’s weak. I have even pointed out to him that he’s being argumentative and he doesn’t see it. Personally, I think it’s insecurity and attention seeking behaviour, but I don’t see why the rest of us have to put up with it.

  • Jess

    I love this article, my husband does this too! Everything I say, even if I’m saying the same thing as him in a different way, is wrong. My dad is here visiting and he’s starting to join in with my husband, and now I’m about to lose my mind! I don’t even want to talk anymore!

  • Ginger

    Well I am married, ten year to someone that does this. I can’t exactly pin point the origin, and on occasion when I am especially calm and gentle I can help him to see it for himself. I don’t usually have the energy to devote to something that I don’t think can’t be changed unless he really sees it and wants to change.

    no you are not making it up.

    I think that it is something about me however I think it is just that my personality triggers something that is already a solid habit in him.

    I think that it is totally subconscious …

    In my opinion no one sees negative things about themselves without some kind of help….It may be that their spouse tells them, and maybe that person wants to change because they care enough about relationships. If a person hold communicating well as a high priority then there is hope, if they don’t then it is basically hopeless.

    I think that if they have good communicators in their midst of relationships then they can be made to understand how exhausting their negativity is, however usually people that are have this tendency are what I called “thin skinned.” They are themselves disagreeable, however they get overly defensive as soon as they are disagreed with.

    I am married to this so I have spend a lot of time, ten years, and have come to the conclusion that to devote more time arguing with him over non sense is insanity on my part….a whole other issue. lol

  • Rosie

    I thought that I was the only one facing this problem, my neighbour is like that and everytime you exchange greetings at anytime of the day , she always want to start a conversation to tell you how wrong you are for being a woman and for saying good morning instead of fine morning.I nicknamed her the Sting. Always wanting to sting you like a bee if you let her. I’ve stop having conversation with her because it was killing me and all I do now is Hello , and if she asked if I was ok, I just replied speak later and get back in.
    I really think OCS people needs some sort of help.
    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  • a.nonymous

    i do this – especially when there is something about this person (which may not even be part of the current conversation) which i disagree with/am upset about. I realised that I was doing it with my teenager, and I could see how it was undermining his confidence. so, i am working an developing a new habit: to choose to consider each conversation as a fresh start. Nobody is wrong about everything. Not even people who exaggerate. Not even people who annoy me.

  • Jenna

    Wow, I too am glad I stumbled upon this article. My significant other does this often. For him, I get the feeling that taking the opposite position in conversations is some kind of “intellectual challenge”. From what I can tell, it serves to boost his ego if he “wins” the conversation in the end, or is at least able to provide more factual evidence in conversation (regardless of how well thought out or logical the argument). It also is a learning experience for him and it seems he may sometimes come out with a different perspective, although if he does, he won’t give anyone else credit for that. All I know is that it is extremely tiring for those who do not have the same conversation style, especially myself who likes to avoid any and all conflict, even for he sake of learning something new. He is aware that he does this and will admit that he will take the opposite view of someone just to “explore all possible sides of a topic”. He does this so often that he can be contradicting himself in the same sentence. I don’t believe he has any idea how annoying this can be because he seems so surprised when it makes people angry. I often find myself hesitating to state anything opinionated, for fear that it will lead to a 5 hour long “debate” about something that I don’t even feel that strongly about in the first place! And whoever said below that saying,”Let’s just agree to disagree” is absolutely right when they said that people with this conversation style won’t agree with that either. As you can imagine, it makes for a challenging relationship because any time you confront them about a “relationship issue”, instead of taking your concerns to heart and asking themselves if you might have a point, they are taking the opposite view and missing the opportunity right a wrong and move forward.

  • jimbob

    I’m genuinely not sure whether it’s her or me! Some things ring so true to me but she accuses me of having always to be right. Her brother is the archetypal ocs, he uses it to control and dominate and is very aggressive and totally devoid of insight. Could be an unhealthy narcissism for which they’d both have their mum’s absolute blindness to other people’s contributions. Perhaps I’ll be able to handle it better now knowing that this is a thing and likely a mechanism for control stemming from insecurity.