[Articles on Communication][Freeing the Mind - Articles on Personal Development]


There is a kind of language which is rather strange. The 'action' is completed merely by uttering the words. These words sometimes have to be uttered by a certain authorised person but not always.

For example, when you stand there in front of the clergyman and he says, 'I pronounce you man and wife,' then at that point you are married. What has happened? What has changed? What has happened is that someone has uttered some words, and because he or she has uttered them then something is true. For example:

I promise I will do this.

I declare (war) (you man and wife).

You are fired!

I find you guilty

I warn you

I order you to

The true expressions of this kind are ones where having said something an act has been done or performed. (For this reason they are sometimes called performatives).

Be careful!

(You have, as a result of this statement been warned.)

I order you to stop talking.

(You have been ordered to stop talking - I don't suppose you will stop, though! But you have been ordered.)

This reveals a way of thinking wherein we believe that something is the case because someone said it.

For example, why should we be upset because someone says we are stupid? For no reason other than we think because they say it it is true. It acts like a performative.

One response to these is to make clear who is the origin of the statement.

I declare you man and wife.

According to whom are we man and wife?

(God, the State, the Church?)

I order you to do this!

According to whom should I do this?

(This makes the speaker self-conscious and perhaps wonders about his or her reasons.)

THE question for performatives is illustrated below:

We promise to guarantee your product for 10 years.

How does your saying, "it is guaranteed," mean it is guaranteed?

(An insurance company guarantees it.)

(You can rely on our good name.)

You can rely on us.

How does your saying, "You can rely on us," mean I can rely on you?

I love you.

How does your saying you love me, mean you love me?

Don't worry! Everything will be all right!

How does your telling me not to worry, mean I don't need to?

Sometimes we get a sensible or reasonable response to the question: How does your saying something make it a fact? Other times it reveals that what could be a powerful persuasion technique is really empty.

The Being Specific Model can sometimes appear confrontational. This is not the purpose. Questions asking for clarification are preferable to contradictions. You have to use these questions sensibly and try not to put people on the spot, if you haven't built rapport with them.

This question for performatives can really bring into our awareness what the assumptions and reasons for a statement are. It can also make clear exactly what a sales person is offering, for example.

Now I urge you to use and practice all the elements of the Being Specific Model. You can find past postings in HTML form at one of the web sites below.

Don't forget to give feedback!

Speak soon.

Ken Ward

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Most Recent Revision: 20-Mar-99.
Copyright 1998, 1999 Ken Ward,
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