“Would you tell me what your name is?”

“I would like for you to sit down, please.”

“What did you see?”

Nice, respectful communication. Right? Compare that to:

“Tell me your name.”

“Sit down.”

“Tell me what you saw.”

Simple, direct commands.

Sometimes words can get in our way. It’s not just about small talk; small talk can be fine. It’s not about being bossy. It’s not even necessarily about our stereotypical Minnesota Nice. It’s amazing the difference that being direct makes, especially when working with a group of students on the Autism Spectrum.

I heard about the strategy in training this summer. Seems simple enough, right? Then I tried to put it into practice. Much to my surprise, I am more comfortable talking when I am using a lot of words (and I admit that the passive tense has always been a weakness of mine). You can probably guess how well the following works: “I’d like for you to sit down.” It doesn’t. But “sit down” sometimes does. Met with silence on the question “what did you see?” I changed tactics and was pleasantly surprised that “tell me what you saw” elicits more responses.

When I’m directing a play, I take great pride in the collaborative process. I trust the team of actors and designers to bring their strengths to the table. I ask a lot of questions, sometimes knowing the answers and knowing where the answer from a particular actor will lead us. Its indirect and sometimes that is extremely useful. I am not always comfortable telling actors or designers what I want, because I believe that we are a team and I shouldn’t be the only one expressing my ideas. But thinking about the change in approach as it relates to students with a range of abilities has me thinking about my style of directing; there are definitely times when being more direct will benefit the work. You can bet I’ll be thinking about this the next time I’m in a rehearsal room!

Are there situations when you could use fewer words to greater effect?

Post by Jess Finney, Upstream Arts Teaching Artist