Communication is the key to positive, meaningful relationships in all areas of our lives—home, school, college, and career. Wherever we are in life, the ability to relate to others and communicate clearly gives us an advantage. In our SuperCamp programs we teach students some powerful tools for achieving clear, constructive communication and maintaining positive relationships.
This series will include the following communication topics:
- #1 – Open the Front Door: Communicate negative feelings with a positive approach
- #2 – Four-Part Apology: Quickly and authentically acknowledge and apologize for mistakes
- #3 – Three Conversation Don’ts: Avoid communication killers like reassurance, advice, and identification
- #4 – Active Listening: Pay attention to the words and the non-verbal communication in a conversation
- #5 – Visible communication: Make your intent visible, make your purpose clear
Open the Front Door (OTFD) to Positive Communication
OTFD is a communication tool designed to open the front door to clear and direct communication. When this tool is used to resolve an uncomfortable situation in a relationship, no one feels confronted or put on the defensive. When used with positive intent, this tool can maintain healthy relationships and even strengthen them.
It’s a dilemma we’re all familiar with—feeling the need to clear up a negative situation when someone has hurt or mistreated us in some way. It’s often awkward and uncomfortable to deal with negativity in a relationship and sometimes we just avoid it. OTFD is a great tool to help us handle conflicts that come up in everyone’s lives now and then.
With OTFD, we can express our thoughts and feelings in a positive and direct manner without making the other person feel attacked and defensive. It’s an approach that resolves conflict quickly and efficiently, and still shows respect to the other person. Both parties can move on and maintain a positive relationship with this communication technique. And it works with everyone—our siblings, friends, classmates, parents, anyone with whom we communicate.
OTFD stands for the four steps of this valuable tool: observation, thoughts, feelings, and desire. It’s important to note that throughout this process it’s vital to stick with “I” statements. If we go the route of “You” did this or “You” said that, we are immediately perceived to be challenging the person and inviting only defensive responses, which will not achieve anything positive. In fact, it will produce another negative encounter. Avoid any thoughts of blaming, shaming, judging, or insulting the other person and you’ll realize the power of OTFD!
O – Observation: In this first step we simply state the facts of the situation. We tell the other person what happened in a factual, objective, fly-on-the-wall way. We share what we observed, something that anyone else could have observed as well. This step is not a judgment or conclusion—it’s merely data.
Example: We were supposed to meet for lunch at noon, and it’s now 12:45.
T – Thought: Next we share our thoughts about what occurred. Using “I” statements we tell the person our opinions about what happened.
Example: I’m wondering what happened to make you late and why you didn’t let me know. I’m thinking maybe you don’t care.
F – Feeling: Now we tell the person how we feel about what happened, again using “I” statements.
Example: I’m feeling frustrated and a little hurt that you didn’t care enough to let me know you were going to be late.
D – Desire: Finally, sharing our desire allows us to express the outcome we’d like to see from this conversation.
Example: In the future I’d like you to let me know as soon as you know you’re going to be late.
The beauty of OTFD is in its order. Following these four steps in this order tells the other person—in a non-confrontational way—precisely what they need to know to understand the situation we’re speaking about. The structure of this communication tool creates its own success. We might cover each of these areas when we don’t use OTFD, yet usually not in a way that the other person can readily understand and accept.
Let’s look at what happens when we don’t use OTFD, and when we don’t consider the power of our words, even if we do use all of its steps:
- We may start with our feeling. I’m mad! The other person instantly gets defensive, possibly without even knowing why we’re mad.
- If we start with our thought or opinion—I think you’re irresponsible—the other person still gets defensive, wondering what right we have to make such a judgment. They may not have any idea what made us think that way.
- When we start with our desire—You should be more considerate of others—the other person immediately gets defensive, thinking of what hurtful comeback to give us, rather than the real issue, which they may not even be aware of.
- Beginning with the observation gets both people at the same starting point, allowing for a much more productive conversation and a positive outcome.
When using OTFD, many misunderstandings are resolved right there in the first step when the person realizes how they let us down and apologizes. If the issue continues past the observation stage, the remaining OTFD steps are there to further facilitate the communication process. Often, you’ll find when you finish communicating this way, that the person you’re talking to will “get it” and agree . . . Yes, I see why you feel this way, and I’m sorry.
We’ve found in teaching this process that taking the time to organize our thoughts into this order also calms us down and removes the emotional context so that we can word each step in a way that is easier for the listener to hear and understand. When we use OTFD, we can tell the person how we feel and what we think about an experience with them without allowing the communication process to feel like a personal attack.
Remember that your best outcomes in these uncomfortable situations will come from a conversation, not from a confrontation. So open the front door to positive communication today . . . and keep it open! With this positive approach—in easy or tense situations—you will easily resolve differences and constantly strengthen your relationships! And strong positive relationships will serve you well in every area of your life.
The next article in our Communication Series is about another valuable communication tool—the Four-Part Apology. We look at this as the twin sister of OTFD as it provides ideas for an effective response to OTFD, or can be used any time we’ve made a mistake that may have damaged a relationship.
About the Contributor: Since 1982, SUPERCAMP, Monthly Mentor, has inspired and empowered thousands of teens to feel confident and motivated, and to excel in school and beyond. SuperCamp offers seven- and ten-day residential programs for students in middle school, high school, and first-year college. Living on a college campus is a great experience for pre-teens and teens and most of our grads go directly to a four-year college after high school. As teens from around the world gather at SuperCamp, they are inspired to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve, and they acquire learning and life skills that empower them to thrive in all areas of their life. Read More…
(See what some recent grads have to say about SuperCamp at www.supercamp.com/student-testimonials.)