Use Active Voice For Crisp, Persuasive Business Communication

Do you attend daily status report calls or stand up meetings? If you have to report a daily status to an American colleague or counterpart, this post will help you to communicate with more clarity, crispness and confidence to an American ear. 

The first part of the post will dissect and reconstruct common types of sentences or status updates, while the second part of the posts shares a video tutorial on uses for passive voice (image, to the right is a still from the video).

Are you guilty of saying any of the following kinds of statements:
  • Reporting what you have done: "The coding was done by me." 
  • Reporting what the team has done: "The bug fix was completed by the team." 
  • Reporting something that one person has done: "Yes, that was completed." 
  • Reporting something that will be done: "That task will be completed soon." 
While all of these kinds of statements have slightly different problems, mentioned below, the common problem they all share is passive voice. When we speak in an passive voice, it sounds a little weak and, often, wishy-washy (vague). Because of this, there may be a lot of follow up questions that could be avoided if we spoke in an active voice, and got to the point to begin with! 

Let's quickly review each of the type of statements above to get from passive voice to active voice in a business environment. 

"The coding was done by me." 
The first step in changing any passive sentence to an active one is to ask, "Who is the main actor here?" In this case, the main actor is "me." So, changing this sentence is pretty easy, "I did the coding." To be even more specific, we can did in "coding for what?" as the actor may have had to code several different things. "I finished the coding for the payment gateway today."

Original passive sentence: "The coding was done by me."
Updated active sentence: 'I finished the coding for the payment gateway today."

"The bug fix was completed by the team." 
So, who is the actor here? The team, of course. But, what does this mean? Did every single person on the team work on it, or select individuals?

Original passive sentence: "The bug fix was completed by the team."

Updated active sentence: "Tom finished the bug fix for the payment gateway, while Faisel and Sridevi tested the payment gateway. The payment gateway is ready to go!"

"Yes, that was completed."  
 So, where is the actor here? He or she is absent. While adding in the actor is not always needed, depending on the flow of the conversation, but talking in active voice should be. In addition to changing the construction of the statement to an active one, we can also be specific as to what was completed. It's possible a few different things are being discussed. It's important to be clear as to what we are saying is finished, is not finished or partially finished.

Original passive sentence: "Yes, that was completed." 
Updated active sentence: "Umesh and Parvathy finished the first feature on the app today. The other two features are still being worked on by Sruthi and Ali."

"That task will be completed soon."   
In addition to adding an actor, what else is missing here? We must add in what task or tasks we are referring to and the exact timeline. 

Original passive sentence: "That task will be completed soon." 
Updated active sentence: "Sam will complete feature XYZ tomorrow. Varsha and Anju will finish feature DSL by Friday."

Other Tips to Identify and Fix Passive Communication
The video below is a great tutorial on how to identify and fix passive constructions.

Author, Jennifer Kumar, consults with offshore teams and international teams to communicate with clarity and confidence in business environments. Contact us for more information today. 

Related Posts: 
Getting the right flow to spoken English  
Proactive communication with Americans - Take Initiative through Conversation!  
Say YES with clarity 

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