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How to Communicate Effectively: The OIC Solution

Published January 31, 2017

Did you ever have a conversation that didn’t feel as if it was going anywhere?
Did you ever look back on an experience meant to foster a mentoring relationship that just fizzled?
Did ever miss a chance to build into another person simply because you weren’t sure how to engage them in conversation?

After a wilderness trip, Dr. Dennis Wilhite was debriefing a few leaders who experienced similar situations. Out of the conversation, Wilhite developed the OIC (Oh, I see!) method of communication as a specific skill set oriented to those who need an organized solution in communication.

The OIC Solution

In this example, we’ll use the name “Joe” as the other party you’d like to communicate with.

Observation. 

Simply communicate what you see. This may look something like, “Joe, could I make an observation?” Assuming Joe agrees, just share the facts as you see them. For example, “This week whenever we had Bible study, it appeared you did not open your Bible or engage with the conversation.” At this point it would be a fair to assume that Joe is now waiting for the hammer to come down. He knows that there is a reason you are making the observations. On the other hand, at least you noticed him.

Interpretation. 

Since Joe may assume you have made a judgment about what you observed, you can now share with him your interpretation of what you saw. In this situation you may have concluded Joe just did not care about spiritual things, but remember to consider what other explanations there might be. Joe could have left his glasses at home, rendering him unable to read the small-print Bible he brought. Or maybe something was going on in his world that screamed in his head whenever things went quiet.  Or…? The idea is to let Joe know that not only is he noticed, but also that you are actually interested enough to wonder what is behind his actions.

Clarification. 

The next step is easy. Ask for clarification. This could be as simple as, “Help me understand.” In doing so, you communicate to Joe that you really are interested in engaging with his world. Joe could respond with evasion, which is just a challenge to determine if you are really interested enough to chase the conversation a bit further. He could respond with defensiveness by turning the attention to something he has observed about you. If that happens, you can simply thank Joe for his concern and model for him how to invite input into your life. Or Joe might just be relieved that someone finally noticed and wants communicate with him directly in an effort to try to understand.

A Real Example of OIC in Action

A few days after we got home from that wilderness trip debriefing, I was sitting through a meeting of church leaders, and the topic turned to frustration over teens leaving the Sunday services purportedly to use the restroom but then just hanging out in the halls instead of returning to the service. The leaders did hall duty on a rotating schedule and had witnessed this activity over a considerable period of time.

“What we need is a policy,” they determined. “That way we are all doing the same thing in telling them to return to their seats, and if someone gets angry, we can say we are just doing our job.”

The way I saw it, the whole conversation was missing the point, and we were about to make a policy that would do nothing but further insulate the leadership from real interaction with kids who desperately needed someone to notice them.

So I whipped out the OIC model and walked them through it. What if they were to see each of those kids in the hallway as someone who was giving them opportunity to engage in their lives? What if they simply had a conversation with them?

It might go something like this.

“Could I make an observation? I have watched you come out of the service week after week and just hang out in the halls. I have been thinking about that and trying to figure out if the preacher is really all that bad? Or if maybe you have an issue with your back or something that does not allow you to sit for that long? Or if there is something going on in your life that makes it miserable to sit and listen to someone teaching the Bible? Help me understand.”

The team forestalled the initiation of yet another policy and agreed to work on having conversations. The results were extraordinary. The leaders were excited about the opportunities they were getting in the lives of kids and their families. Relationships were being initiated. And some of the leaders were actually hoping that kids would drift out into the halls just so they could engage with them.

OIC. Oh, I see. Simple. Direct. Relational. Effective. Another tool born out of the wilderness and cleaned up for use on the street.

Dennis WilhiteDr. Dennis Wilhite, Professor of Youth Ministries
With more than 20 years in pastoral roles, mostly in youth ministry, he focuses on discipling people for the work of the ministry. He founded Pilgrimage Educational Resources to help churches and other organizations learn aggressive, effective approaches to leadership development. His favorite thing to do is to head into the wilderness with a group of people hungry to chase after a broadened understanding of themselves, others, God and ministry leadership.

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