Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Messages We Send to Children in the Words We Say- Part 2: Verbal Modifiers

Many statements have two levels of meaning. One level is the basic information that we communicate with the specific words we say. The second level conveys our attitudes and feelings; most specifically, revealing what we think and how we feel about the words we are saying. This deeper level of communication is known in linguistic literature as the metamessages level. Simply put, a metamessage is the in-depth message that can be implied from the surface message. One of the ways in which we can create a metamessage is by including a verbal modifier in the sentence. As defined by McKay, Davis, and Fanning (2009), verbal modifiers are special words that add nuances of meaning to the sentence. Some words and phrases commonly used to modify verbs are:

Ø Words: certainly, only, merely, naturally, now, later, sure, just, still, again, slightly, lately, seriously, and supposedly.

Ø Phrases: of course, come on, I’m sure, and I guess.

Some examples of metamessages developed through a verbal modifier follow. The verbal modifiers are in italics.

·        Cheer up! It’s only her opinion.

Metamessage: You are taking her opinion too seriously.

 

·        Are you still working on that problem?

Metamessage: You are taking too much time on one problem.

 

·        I was just saying…

Metamessage: Calm down! You cannot take my point of view.

 

·        You certainly are funny today.

Metamessage: I’m not comfortable with your jokes.

 

·        Here you go again!

Metamessages: What you are doing, you do it repeatedly and what you do repeatedly annoys me.

 

·        You are telling me the truth, I guess.

Metamessage: I doubt that you are telling me the truth.

 

·        Come on, guys, stop talking!

Metamessage: Chill out, guys! I’m annoyed with your talking.

 

·        You tried your best, I’m sure.

Metamessage: I’m not sure that you tried your best.

 

·        You were minding your own business, of course.

Metamessage: I doubt that you were minding your own business.

 

·        You were minding your own business… seriously?

Metamessage: I strongly doubt that you were minding your own business.

 

·        Now, what do you need?

Metamessages: You ask for too much and I’m running out of patience.

 

·        Supposedly, you want to settle this issue with Gregory.

Metamessage: Are you sure that you want to settle this issue?

 

·        Naturally, you had to start trouble!

Metamessages: Starting trouble is what you do, and starting trouble is a part of you or your identity.

On the surface, a statement sounds harmless but underneath there may be a metamessage blaming and/or shaming the student. The biggest offender in finding fault in children is the “there must be something wrong with you” metamessage. Let’s review some of the examples above, this time, with “there must be something wrong with you” included:

·        There must be something wrong with you if you take her opinion so seriously.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you need so much time for just one problem.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you cannot take my point of view.

·        There must be something wrong with your jokes if they make me feel uncomfortable.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you keep repeating this particular behavior.

·        There must be something wrong with you guys if you are still talking.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you do not try your best.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you ask so much.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you don’t want to settle this issue.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you have to start trouble.

·        There must be something wrong with you if you repeatedly have to start trouble.

 If teachers are not careful, our metamessages may be feeding feelings of inefficacy and self-doubt in students. Knowledge of metamessages is a basic interpersonal communication skill to build a positive and constructive classroom atmosphere, with students that are engaged and motivated.

Reference:

McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (2009). Messages: The Communication Skills Book. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Related Readings:

The Messages We Send to Children in the Words We Say- Part 1: Presuppositions
To read this blog post, click here.

Watch Your Language! Ways of Talking and Interacting with Students that Crack the Behavior Code
To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

All Behavior is Communication: How to Give Feedback, Criticism, and Corrections that Improve Behavior
To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student- Where Do I Start? What Do I Say? How Do I Do It?
To preview this book on Amazon, click here.