Speech Acts 6: Don’t forget the speaker

The sixth post in a series exploring Speech Acts – the foundations of speaking and listening to make meaningful action possible.

A conversation for action is largely made up of requests (will you do something for me?) and promises (yes, I will, or no, I won’t), and developing skill in each of these can make all the difference in having what’s important actually happen.

Many of the difficulties we encounter are because we’re not paying enough attention to the completeness of our requests and promises. Or because we’re not responding effectively to the inevitable breakdowns in them that happen when people are speaking with one another.

So, let’s dive in and look at the first of ten parts that are needed in every request, and which are the source of many difficulties when not addressed.

(1) all requests need a speaker

This might seem obvious until you look at what happens when there isn’t one. If someone you know well says ‘please come to a meeting with me at 9am on Monday’ you’re able to tell a lot about the seriousness and reason for their request from what you know about them. And your decision about whether to set aside the time to join in, and your sincerity or cynicism if you turn up, will depend in large part upon this.

But a request without a clearly defined speaker is much more difficult to respond to. If you say ‘management ask that staff attend a meeting at 9am on Monday’ don’t be surprised if many people can’t decide whether to come. ‘Staff are asked to join a meeting’ is even harder to interpret. ‘Says who?’ might be a reasonable response.

All this is because every request is spoken by someone, a someone with a whole world of cares, commitments and history. When we respond to your request we’re responding to the you that you are for us as much as to what you asked. And we’re responding to the relationship we have with you – which is why a properly completed conversation for relationship leads so directly to more powerful requests.

Leaving out the speaker leaves us with a lot of room for doubt and confusion. And it does little to foster what we imagine you wanted – a sincere, wholehearted, genuine response to something that you really need doing.

You can read more on ‘Speech Acts’ – conversations, requests and promises – here.


Photo Credit: jepoirrier via Compfight cc

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