I recently received an email that contained a sentence of the form: “The decision has been made…”. This immediately set off alarms in my head. There is a subtle difference between this passive form and a more active conjugation: “I/We have decided…”
With the active form the author is stepping up and taking responsibility. The author is not hiding from any potential debate, in fact they are indicating participation in the decision and appear accepting of it.
With the passive form, as I received it, it is clear that the decision is controversial. Most likely the author does not even agree. The passive voice distances the author from the debate and hides them from any fallout due to this “bad” decision. Likewise, no indication is given as to who made the decision so, at the same time, passive voice discourages further debate on the topic.
Why is this important? Why bother writing a blog post about it? It is very difficult to convey expression and tone of voice over email. This is a primary reason emoticons like 🙂 and 😦 came into common use as it allows you to indicate emotion. But what is also important is your sentence structure and grammar choices. Subtle decisions, like using the passive voice, can change the entire mood of your email and your recipients.
My recommendation, and what I do with most of my communications, is to read over my correspondence at least once, if not twice. I think to myself, “Self, how will my intended audience perceive this email?” Usually a quick once over can help you find issues such as this and have your audience be more accepting and interested. Remember, you can never take back a first impression. This counts not only in “real life” but in email (and blog posts) as well.