【Business English】Avoiding Blame

In the world of business, we would all like to imagine that things go according to plan not only regularly, but all the time. In reality though, we all know this is simply not possible and as a result, we have to get used to dealing with results that are less than optimal.

Whether it be an accident at work, or a late shipment, there are a plethora of ways for things to go wrong. After these outcomes though, usually the blame game is immediately applied, many times unfairly. Sometimes, the individuals or the cause of any such misfortunes must be properly identified and dealt with to lighten the possibility of errors in the future.

One common issue is how to avoid blaming people directly. It is very harsh sounding and some want to avoid this. If you are in that situation, there is one way to do this. We are talking about the passive voice.

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Simply put, passive voice is when the focus is on the object, instead of the subject.  Some examples below can demonstrate clearly.

The man opens the door.

Subject   – man
Verb        – opens
Object     – door

In this sentence, the man is getting the attention as he comes first.  In psychology, people are naturally attracted to things that come first and in language, it is no different.  In English, about 98% of spoken English is in active voice, just like the sentence above.

 

Now, let’s make it passive voice.

The door is opened by the man.

Object     – door
Verb        – opened
Subject   – man

The only difference is the focus is now on the door which makes it seem more important.  However, all the information is exactly the same.  So how does this actually assist in avoiding blame?  Let’s take a look at a few examples and it should become obvious.

Jim caused the accident.

This sentence is quite clear cut about who caused the accident and Jim is at the forefront of the mind. However, with passive voice, it can be used to avoid blame.

The accident was caused.

Notice in this sentence, the focus is now on the accident and no longer the person. In addition, passive voice also has the nice option of dropping the subject, or the person or thing that does the action, causing Jim to disappear entirely.

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For the grammar part, make sure to use:

form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice

Look at a few more examples to see the difference passive voice can make.

(active)    Timothy left the door open and the thieves were able to steal the wood from the yard.
(passive) The door was left open and the thieves were able to steal the wood from the yard.
(active)    ABC company destroyed the transportation route.
(passive) The transportation route was destroyed.
(active)  Kimmy didn’t clean the sink.
(passive) The sink was not cleaned.
So whenever there is some blame to be assigned, and you want to avoid it, you can do so by applying passive voice.

 

Author’s Profile
Business & DSE English-Author Mr Walter Lam
Mr. Walter Lam

Born in Canada, I’ve taught English for the last seven years in Hong Kong in-person and online. I currently have an IG following of over 5000 followers, and also do streams teaching English to students. In addition, I taught a lot in regards to TOEIC, the HKDSE, and IELTS.

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