OFTP’s Exec List/Forum Communication Guidelines

These are the communication guidelines used on the OFTP executive list/forum. We encourage the use of these or similar guidelines on other lists/forums as well -- please see the copyright license.

Communication Guidelines

To facilitate skillful and constructive communication on this list/forum, we've drawn up some communication guidelines.

Foundations of skillful communication:

  • willingness
  • effort
  • patience
  • tools

Goals of skillful communication:

  • to truly hear and understand another's point of view
  • to express one's own perspective with both clarity and caring
  • to build consensus, in other words transform disagreement into a solution everyone can feel comfortable with

How to reach these goals:

These goals are accomplished by being non-adversarial, in other words working with others as your allies:

  • engaging in empowerment, not power struggles
  • working from the same side of the fence: confronting the issues, not each other
  • seeing people as resources, not as obstacles
  • drawing on everyone's strengths
  • finding common ground
  • addressing concerns
  • accommodating wishes
  • making personal adjustments in your position or perspective when needed
  • recovering effectively and with forgiveness when blunders occur

Specific tools and tips:

For clarity and brevity

  • Avoid re-sending lengthy emails (on a list) or quoting lengthy passages (on a forum) to which you are responding. Cut and paste just the sections that are relevant and which will help the reader to understand your comments.
  • Keep threads (as indicated in the SUBJECT lines of emails or TOPIC titles of forums) relevant and accurate. If you are responding to a topic already underway, keep the same Subject Line. If you are starting a new topic, try to summarize it briefly in a new Subject Line. Yahoo Groups can search by Subject Lines.

For skillful interaction

as the sender of a post:

  • STOP before hitting the "send" or "post" or "submit" button;
  • let your emotions be your cue to walk away and come back to it later when you've calmed down;
  • when you come back, re-read what you've written (if you've saved your draft), or re-write from scratch and read, from the perspective of the one it's aimed at;
  • get a friend with a more objective eye to take a look and suggest more skillful wording;
  • re-phrase where necessary -- you can use some of the suggested phrases below
  • when making a point, don't repeat yourself too much, just say it once, then leave it for a few days -- if there's no response, you can try to make the point again at that time
  • follow the guidelines for a respectful attitude (goals and how to reach those goals as allies, not adversaries)
  • if a negative message is already sent, post a 'recall' of it: "please disregard/delete my last post, I realize I wasn't being fair" or something similar
  • if harm is already done, try to help heal the wounds with authentic apologies and true respect

as the one reading a post:

  • allow the sender time to "recall" an inappropriate post
  • acknowledge that disagreement in itself is not negative or judgemental, merely a difference in perspective
  • acknowledge that a phrase can mean different things to different people, and don't jump to conclusions about what it means to the one using it
  • respond to the issue, not in judgement of the person
  • refrain from automatic objection and rejection
  • make sure you understand what the person is saying by asking clarifying questions and mirroring what you believe they mean
  • find common ground and share what you like about their idea
  • when explaining what you find problematic, express it in terms of concerns, not objections
  • ask constructive questions to invite a joint exploration of how the idea can be modified to address the concerns

Words and phrases

These are some suggestions of words and phrases to use to convey your willingness to work things out:

  • I think I was making an assumption that may not be shared: ...
  • am I off-base?
  • I wonder if you could tell me a little more about your idea [concern, proposal, suggested solution, ...]
  • I wonder if you could help me see more clearly what you mean. [this could be coupled with something about confusion]
  • I'm feeling a little confused about whether you mean [such-&-such] or [such-&-such-else], or maybe something else altogether, that I haven't thought of.
  • can you be more specific?
  • I wonder if it would help if I share my perception of what happened. It's just my own perspective, but maybe it will help shed some light on the matter.
  • I wonder if there's a way to accommodate both [x] and [y]...
  • I wonder...
  • I hope...

What qualifies as an inappropriate post?

Most inappropriate posts come from negative, unprocessed emotions. Here are some examples (the list is not exhaustive):

  • belligerence
  • insults
  • negative pride and indignation
  • unfair depictions of a person or situation
  • insincere apologies
  • contempt
  • passive-aggressivity

What will happen if an inappropriate post is sent?

  • Anyone who sends an inappropriate post should retract it and apologize as soon as they become aware of what they've done.
  • The list/forum facilitator may contact them to help them recognize the need for an apology, which they should send within 24 hours of their original post.
  • If they're unwilling to retract and apologize in a sincere and constructive way, the facilitator will temporarily remove them from the list/forum. They may join again after a week or 2 if they're willing to help repair the damage done and follow the guidelines from then on.
  • Their removal from the list/forum will be permanent if, after several chances, they continue to communicate in inappropriate ways.

By subscribing to this list/forum, we're all agreeing to communicate respectfully, and we understand that our continued participation on the list/forum is dependent on our willingness and ability to do so. Let's make this list/forum an empowering place for everyone to express their ideas, wishes and concerns and receive helpful, respectful and constructive responses. 🙂

Creative Commons License

This work was authored by the executive members of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents and is licensed under a  Creative Commons License. You may copy, display and distribute these guidelines with this license notice. You may also adapt the guidelines to make your own version of them as long as you make them available with the same attribution/non-commercial/share-alike Creative Commons License. Thank you!