Speech that is an act. What does this mean?

A speech act is defined as a verbal expression by an individual that both presents information and performs an action; it is in the philosophy of language and linguistics. An example of a speech act is “You are hired for the position.” In that statement, there is information about the person being hired into a new position and the act of hiring that is performed.

Common speech acts in business are promising, requesting, ordering, inviting, congratulating, hiring, firing, declaring. Although we in business are familiar with these terms, we routinely fail to apply them and fail to take any action. What does that look like? An executive might describe something that needs to be changed or fixed, but does not include a speech act such as a request or an order. Without the request or order, what the executive wants is not understood. The communication is merely information.

Although it may not be discussed or even apparent to the people in organizations, businesses rely on speech acts to get results accomplished. Not only is talk not cheap, but it is the source of results!

By increasing our use of speech acts, we can improve our performance and our results. Make requests and promises. Invite customers to buy. Congratulate and acknowledge employees, peers, managers, and executives.

People to thank for moving our use of language from naming and describing what already exists to creating through speech acts are John Langshaw Austin (26 March 1911 – 8 February 1960), a British philosopher of language, who developed the theory of speech acts, and John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932), an American philosopher, who devised a system of speech act categorization. Searle’s work in speech act theory evolved to influence areas of philosophy and human and cognitive sciences.

If you are doing a lot of communicating without seeing results, it is worth examining whether your communication is a call to action. A challenge to all of us: Take on increasing the use of speech acts and watch our performance and results expand and grow!

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