“Your years of service are appreciated,” a manager told me recently.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t referring to my years of service, since we’d only just met. I had asked him, and others in the workshop, to write a motivational message.

The problem with his message: passive voice. We don’t know who’s doing the appreciating. And the only thing being appreciated is time.

A stronger message: “I really value your expertise and know-how. For example, last week when you . . .” (provide 1-2 specific examples).

How strong are your messages?

Passive voice, in writing, takes the life right out of a sentence (more examples later). But passive voice is not just a writing problem.

Do you ever speak with a passive voice?

Let’s consider some examples involving Henry, a hypothetical bank robber.

1) “I’ll try to rob the bank,” Henry says.

From a writing standpoint, that’s ok. But when spoken, it’s weak.

“Try” is a tip-off that Henry will never rob the bank. He’ll probably never even go into the bank, he won’t even use the ATM.

Soon, Henry will be asking you to lend him money; says he’ll “try” to pay you back soon.

Good luck with that.

2) “The bank was robbed,” Henry says.

By whom? This is classic passive voice. Henry has vanished from the sentence. Sure, he robbed the bank, but now he refuses to take credit.

3) “My stupid boss made me rob the bank,” Henry says.

Don’t you just want to go up to Henry, shake him, and say, “Henry, for god’s sake, stop blaming other people in the organization. Take responsibility for your life, man.”

4) “I robbed the bank.”

Finally, Henry has spoken with an active voice.

And in 10-20 years, when Henry is released from jail, perhaps his boss will be there to thank him for his years of service.

Tip: Are you a leader? Of course you are! Then let’s sound like one. Not “mistakes were made,” but “I made mistakes, and here’s what I’m doing to fix them.”

Otherwise, you rob energy.

P.S. Adapted from You’ve Got 8 Seconds, the #1 Amazon Best Seller in business communication, Kindle edition (as of 5/22/19). Also available in print and audio.


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