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Communication Skills: Two Opposites

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Posted 27 January 2014 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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Communication skills: Two Opposites

The definition of communication is "the transfer of information and emotion, from one mind to another".

The definition of "Excellent communication" is "the accurate transfer of information and emotion, from one mind to another, without error, omission or distortion of meaning."

The deadly enemy of excellent communication is vagueness or ambiguity in language. Ambiguity occurs whenever there is more than one possible, plausible interpretation for any given message.

Vagueness and ambiguity cause misunderstanding, and are, therefore, the deadly enemy of excellent communication. For example, does the sentence "I didn't say he kissed his wife," mean:

"I didn't say HE kissed his wife?" Or did it mean, "I didn't say he KISSED his wife". Or did it mean "I didn't say he kissed HIS wife".

You can see that ambiguity in language can be the cause of misunderstandings and conflicts. Any time that there is a word that has multiple meanings; you need to be on your guard for misinterpretation. (And that means; nearly all the time!)

I want to bring to your attention, an important example of a word with two meanings. Be especially wary of the fact that the word "opposite" has two different meanings.

The two meanings of "opposite" are:

  • Opposite meaning; the contradictory opposite.
  • Opposite meaning; the contrary opposite.

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Most people don't know the difference between the two forms of opposition

  1. Contradictory
  2. Contrary

Do you know the difference?

IF not, then please keep reading....

  • IF I said to you, "What is the opposite of north?", then you would probably say "south".
  • IF I said to you, "What is the opposite of good?" You would probably say, bad, (or evil).
  • IF I said to you, "What is the opposite of right?" You would probably say wrong, (or left).

All these are examples of the contrary form of opposition.

But you could have answered differently:

  • If I said to you, "What is the opposite of north?", then you could have said "NOT north!"
  • If I said to you, "What is the opposite of good?" You could have said NOT good.
  • If I said to you, "What is the opposite of right?" You could have said NOT right.

This the contradictory form of opposition.

Here is the point:

  • Try not to think in terms of contraries, (north/south type).
  • Try to think, rather, in terms of contradictories (the NOT-NORTH type).

Question: Why is it better to think in terms of contradictory opposition, rather than contrary opposition?

Because; Contraries are divisive. Contraries tend to split the world into two polar opposites. Contraries are simplistic oppositions.

Examples of polar contraries:

  • You are wrong, and I am right.
  • It is black, or it is white.
  • You are weak or you are strong.
  • He is right or he is wrong.

But this is too simplistic.

  • If you did not win, you are not necessarily "a loser". You are not a loser if you come fourth in the race.
  • If you are not going north, it does not mean you must be going south.
  • If you are not for me, it does not mean you are against me.

How many directions are there that are NOT north? Answer: there is infinity of directions that are not north.
How many directions are there that are the contrary of north? Only one: south.

Be very wary of the clown who talks in "contrary opposition pairs".

  • Is it right or wrong?
  • Is it black or white?
  • Is it north or south?
  • Is it good or bad?

Can you see how the above method of thinking can be more divisive and polarising? It causes unnecessary division by oversimplification.

Think more in terms of contradictories; ask instead:

  • Is it right or not?
  • Is it black or not?
  • Are we heading north or not north?
  • Is it a good use of time, or not?

Contradictory opposition breaks the world into its many directions, many colours and many opinions. It avoids the problem of polarisation. And Contradictory opposition maintains the clarity of the concept. Contradictory opposition is a more creative way of looking at opposition.

Here is the point to remember:

Try not to ask contrary opposition questions such as:

  • Am I right or wrong?
  • Is it black or white?
  • Is it north or south?
  • Is it good or bad?

Try instead to use contradictory opposition:

  • Am I right or not?
  • Is it black or not?
  • Are we heading north or not north?
  • Is it a good use of time, or not?

Remember that:

  • Contradictory opposition: is good!
  • Contrary opposition; is not as good.

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