Most of us dislike commands; many are hesitant about being questioned. Have you considered how often we make demands and/or ask questions of young people? Perhaps it is time to shift – as Speech Pathologist, Linda Murphy, suggests – to making declarative statements with youth. In Murphy’s book, “Declarative
Language Handbook”, she refers to the importance of adults making declarative statements rather than issuing commands or asking questions. She has developed an approach that is designed to support youth with communication and social difficulties; however, I believe this is a useful approach to use with any young person.
Murphy likens the communications process to ‘thinking out loud’. When adults provide a running commentary about what is going on, they are simply stating facts, so they are neither making demands nor requiring answers to questions. Certainly, one’s perception is one’s reality – and not necessarily how everyone perceives the same thing – but an observation is neither demanding nor requiring an answer to a query, so it doesn’t ‘put anyone on the spot’ or require anything from them. Initially developed to help individuals understand another’s perspective, using declarative statements have wider benefits and can be used more broadly.
Curiosity is an amazing characteristic and one that should be encouraged, but when we adults constantly ask questions of young people, we are not simply being curious or modelling curiosity, we are exercising power when we want, expect and/or demand a response to a question. Likewise, commands require a response – usually a behaviour of some sort; whereas a declaration is a neutral statement or observation about something that is already occurring or about to take place. A declarative statement can be a statement of fact, an observation, an expression of wonder, but a declarative statement should never be used to hide a demand or question because it then becomes a demand or a question and is no longer a declarative statement.
Linda Murphy maintains that using declarative statements means using a thoughtful form of language that helps youth to feel competent, connected and understood. This approach neither demands nor requires a specific response, but rather provides observations and declarations of personal intention. Using declarative language removes the power differential; does not require a specific spoken or behavioural response and provides a less pressured environment for students.
By making observations through declarative statements, no pressure is exerted, and no one feels threatened - triggering a panicked fight/flight/freeze response. Communication is simply based upon declarations about what is occurring or what is about to occur. By reducing pressure, positive relationships can be established or maintained. It can be helpful within any relationship if there are no demands – just statements of facts made through declarative statements. This approach does require a paradigm shift, but it is worth the effort to establish this style of communication.