How to Use English so US Clients Understand with Ease

Posted On: June 25, 2018

Do you ever feel that your English is not understood in the way you intend by your US counterparts and clients?

Everyday in the status update call or stand up meeting, you share what you have been working on for the day, your blockers and what you will do tomorrow, yet, either your manager repeats what you just said, or the client is asking for clarification on something you felt you were clear about.

If this happens to you, we have worked with many people in your exact situation. Actually, your language skills are good, but the problem is the type or way of using English is not exactly understood by the US citizen the way you intended it to be. We can say the cultural use of English makes American English and Indian English almost like foreign languages to each other.

For example, 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) to the US person’s ear. 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! 


Adapt English to the US Style for Quicker Understanding

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. Jisha and Binu will finish feature DSL by Friday.”

When to use the Passive Voice
When reporting who has done what, or to assure you get credit for your own work (especially important in a virtual environment where your colleagues don’t see you, regardless of national culture), it’s important to be more direct, and use more of an active voice as mentioned above. However, if a difficult message needs to be communicated, the passive voice may be a helpful way to pass a difficult message in a softer way. Let’s take a look at when to use and NOT use the passive voice.

When TO use the passive voice:

  1. When we do not know who or what is responsible for an action
  2. When we know who or what is responsible, but don’t want to reveal it (if this is done all the time with US clients, they may think there’s a lack of transparency) 
  3. When we want to appear objective or removed from the information
  4. When we are trying to apologize for something, or sharing a difficult message (such as constructive criticism)
  5. We are trying to point out an action that is not desired, but not necessarily a person who did it
If the passive voice is used all the time, US clients may think that no one on your team wants to take responsibility for what needs to be done. This is not the right impression you want to set or maintain. If you aren’t sure if your team is guilty of this, if the US client often asks for a name of those assigned to specific tasks or who does what, this means they are probably hearing too much passive voice. Also, they are losing trust in your team. To rebuild that trust, we can help you out. 

I hope these tips can help you communicate your status updates with your US counterparts with more clarity and in a way they understand with more ease. I specialize in helping you to fine tune these updates on various levels, and help you to, in general, communicate with your US clients with more ease and cultural know-how. Contact us for more information today. 

Related Posts:
More example sentences on transforming passive to active sentences
Getting the right flow to spoken English
Proactive communication with Americans – Take Initiative through Conversation!
Say YES with clarity

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


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