One of the most valuable distinctions you can make about language is to develop insight into active and passive voice. “Mistakes were made” is passive voice. It doesn’t say by whom those mistakes were made. People use passive voice to avoid acknowledging responsibility.

People also deflect responsibility by using words that sound like they refer to something real, but which refer to abstract concepts. Then they talk as if those abstract concepts are somehow active agents.

“Competition increased this year.” No, it didn’t. Customers purchased from other companies, instead of yours. It’s customers where the action lies. When you put the action where it belongs, you can start to gain insight into how you can investigate further. In this case, by calling up a bunch of customers buyers and asking, “why did you buy from Those Other Guys, Inc. instead of us?”

My favorite deceptive language of the day is that “wages aren’t going up as much as expected, given the economy.” But … wages don’t go up or down. Wages just are. The proper formulation is, “managers and employers are not raising wages.” That puts the action (and the responsibility) squarely where it belongs.

Learn to listen carefully to language. You’ll quickly start to realize how much people use it to avoid addressing the real problems they’re dealing with.

Two language tricks that mean they’re…

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