Friday, July 20, 2012

Ed: You have an Oppositional Conversational Style.  

Joe: No I don't

Have you ever spent time with a person who has Oppositional Conversational Style? OCS is what they're calling it now.  It looks something like this:

Ed:  It's really warm out, man.
Joe: It's actually not. It's way hotter in Atlanta.
Ed: Uh, I mean for us here, it's hot.
Joe: No, it was much hotter a few summers ago.
Ed: Uh, well, I guess you're right.

In the above exchange Ed will shuffle away dejected. He will end up feeling well, for lack of a better word, slimed by Mr. No Joe.  Mr. No Joe operates like that in every exchange no matter how benign the topic.  No-Joes leave a trail of anxious, unsatisfied and slightly angry ex-conversational partners.  Many of whom have no conscious idea of the reason for their angst.  Then they, themselves, go out into the world similarly to spread their newly acquired "good cheer."

I could cite case after case of this OCS to you because I know some people quite well who operate like this.  I have had loads of interactions with them.  The problem is that it's beyond negativism.  It's a conversational style that is designed to upset, to rankle, to over-power.   It's a conversational style that develops for a lot of different reasons.  I think the main reason is that people who operate like this feel, at their core, extremely powerless.  It's really just a bullying technique dressed up as polite conversation.  And it's contagious.   Highly contagious.

The art of really listening to somebody requires keeping our big fat traps shut.  It also requires that we hear while suspending judgment, reaction, the need to fix, to share or to interrupt what somebody is saying; both with their words and their body language.  Some guys I know are particularly bad at this because it's, generally speaking, not their primary role in life to take care of kids.  Mothers are always trying to stay a step ahead of kids' fluctuating moods.  This is mainly due to the fact that these are usually clues to bigger potentially unresolved issues such as illness, fatigue, emotional upheaval, anger, sadness, etc. that will ultimately require more attention if left to fester.  Some guys are really great at it.  I even met one, once.

Anyway, the OCS folks out there need to control conversations and people. Some of the more profoundly effected also actually like to watch people get upset.  That's usually skating into the severely pathologically narcissistic spectrum; a spectrum upon which we all fall somewhere. It's just better for everyone when we fall somewhere to the west of pathological.   The OCS people do this because they are largely disconnected.  Being emotionally disconnected from humanity will allow the psyche to engage in the most destructive behavior and, worse, justify it.  They say things like, "they deserved it. They were asking for it. They're so weak. They're so (insert derogatory adjective here)."  It's a basic lack of empathy.  However, that lack of empathy practiced over time becomes a basic lack of humanity.  People who have OCS suffer a constant stream of disconnections.  It snowballs.

The only cure for it is empathy.  But it is incredibly difficult to be empathetic to people who only want to argue with us or make us nervous, anxious, angry and who generally don't hear a damn thing we're saying.   I guess that's why Jesus told us to turn the other cheek.   Not so we could get are asses kicked but so we could gently practice the kind of empathy that is more contagious than its counterpart.

Empathy begets empathy.  Opposition begets opposition.

Empathy met with opposition is still empathy.

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