Have you felt like a ghost during conversation?
Have you felt like an afterthought around people?
If so, you need Active Verbs.
Previously, we’ve spoken how to command presence using Strong Verbs.
Active Verbs add weight to your words, conviction to your ideas, and respect to your commands.
Without it, you are another voice in a sea of millions.
With it, people listen.
Not just to your words, but to you, the person. Let’s proceed.
Passive Verbs Are Weak
First, we must define a passive verb.
A verb becomes passive when the object is placed at the beginning of the sentence and is the focus.
Instead of the subject employing the action(verb), the object is now the receiver of the action(verb).
“Bob drew the painting.”
“The painting was drawn by Bob.’
Those are passive verbs. Why is this a problem in conversation?
The verb is neutered. The 1st sentence was dynamic because the subject was executing the action. Now, the object is receiving the action.
Doing vs. Receiving
Passive verbs represent lifelessness in 3rd person.
There is loss in control when something or someone is receiving the action.
You are a ghost, an afterthought.
The subject is downplayed, and the action is marginalized as a passing occurrence. Don’t believe me?
“I will run for President.”
“The Presidency will have me as a candidate.”
You, the subject, seem far away. Your relevancy is diminished because passive verbs shift importance onto the object.
How can you gain respect, recognition, or relevance if the subject cowers behind disappearing language?
“Disappearing?” you ask.
Yes. Not only do passive verbs reduce impact, it becomes wordy. Wordy sentences never convey messages as intended.
“I stayed at a beautiful resort in Santa Monica.”
“There was a beautiful resort in Santa Monica that I stayed in.”
Duct tape holds this sentence together.
I tried to reconstruct the sentence using the same verbs, adjectives, and ideas.
Still, I needed to add unnecessary words to make the sentence work. The redundant confuses the listener and dilutes your message.
When you speak, you want to engage the listener and hold attention.
To hold attention, you command presence.
To command presence, you need active verbs.
Make Active Verbs Great (Again)
The easiest way to command presence is to speak in first person. What does that mean though?
Revisiting the formula, let’s explain.
Subject + Verb + Object
The solution is: Keep the Person/Thing committing the action at the forefront of the sentence, and Person/Thing receiving the action at the end.
This will create a strong, direct, and clear tone because the subject’s intentions are straightforward.
“I green-lit the order.”
You should (almost) ALWAYS refer to yourself in first-person; you gain respect by being responsible for your own ideas and actions.
Avoid doing this:
“The order was green-lit by me.”
Switching the subject and order complicates the message.
Also, switching the order elongates the sentence, which dilutes the message.
However, there is a worse way of structuring:
“The order was green-lit by the group.”
Now, you removed all responsibility and weight from your words. You spoke in third person and no subjects/persons were identified.
This also has special importance when assigning orders:
“This task will be performed by Megan.”
“Megan will perform the task.”
In the first sentence, you’ve made Megan an afterthought, a secondary detail.
By pushing her to the back of the sentence, you’ve relegated her to the backseat and let the order take the spotlight.
The 2nd sentence gives her the spotlight, focuses the responsibility on her, and enunciates the order with clarity.
It’s the small details that have a great impact.
Focus On The Center Of Attention
Active verbs require little effort. For example, when you speak about yourself, use first person:
Bob: “How are you doing today?”
You: “I am doing well. Thank you.”
The other person addressed YOU in the present moment. This sentence becomes awkward in 3rd person unless you get creative.
Bob: “How are you doing today?”
You: “Health and wellness have been bestowed upon me today.”
Bob: “Why are you talking like that?”
Even then, you get piqued looks. Speaking of 3rd person, avoid referring to others in 3rd person, especially if they are standing in front of you.
Bob: “I am going to start exercising.”
You: “That’s great. Exercise would be a welcome addition in your life.”
You: “That’s great. You will be much healthier.”
Use active verbs to command presence by keeping the focus on the here and now. You can even use characteristics pertaining to them.
You: “That’s great. Your health will improve.”
The focus is still on them.
Active verbs ensures the subject carry any responsibility, decision, action attributed to them (good or bad).
“I built this bookshelf.” Vs. “This bookshelf was built by me.”
“I was the one who gave the order.” Vs “The order was given by me.”
There is a distinction between the sentences based on tonality and subtext. People will respect you if you assign your own success and failures upon yourself.
Conflict And Dispute
They are uncomfortable, messy, and escalate with little provocation.
However, if you enter one, you must remain confident and stand your ground.
Whether right or wrong, remain stoic and express your thoughts in a concise manner.
The person you are arguing with (and the people around) need to understand the firmness and weight of your words.
“I disagree with your statement.”
“Your statement doesn’t sit well with me.”
The first sentence is a hard-line stance that lets everyone know you stand.
The second sentence is passive and reactive.
You feel like a pushover because the sentence affected you.
If conflict is at your doorstep, don’t use flimsy language.
Active verbs are straight-forward in their approach and I recommend it whenever possible. Though, passive verbs have their uses.
Use Cases For Passive Verbs
I wouldn’t recommend using passive verbs, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give it a fair shake.
If you wish to avoid blame, use passive verbs. Remove yourself from the sentence and replace it with an entity. For example:
“The errors were created by the group.”
Now, the group is to blame and the ire will divide among several people. If you operated alone, it will be more difficult, however, you can always fall back on:
“Mistakes were made.”
There is a problem and no one to attribute it too. However, passive verbs create dissonance inside listeners as they comprehend the situation.
Your best bet is to acknowledge the mistake and explain how to rectify it.
Notice I said ‘bet’.
There is no guarantee someone won’t ask for an explanation of what happened or who was responsible.
Acknowledge and move on.
“The door was left open which allowed the dogs to enter and create a mess. Here’s what we should do to clean up…”
The Subject Is Unknown Or Irrelevant
If you can’t elaborate who/what the subject is, use passive verbs.
“This architecture was made in the year 667.”
This implies the people who created it remain unknown.
Also, the subject may not matter in this instance.
“The energy panel will be built in the open fields.”
Meaning there is no interest in knowing who is building the panels.
Both sentences exclude the subject and there is little harm in using it in these scenarios.
You can use passive verbs to enact authority.
“Visitors are not allowed after 9:00pm.”
This is different from commanding authority because passive verbs masks the subject. Nobody knows who created the rule so you defer to the implicit command structure.
You act on the authority’s behalf.
Speaking About Generalities
Passive verbs are compatible with generalities. For example:
“Rules were made to be broken.”
These apply to nobody in particular; thus, no subject is available. However, I wouldn’t sprinkle many phrases within your conversational palette. Reserve it for rare scenarios.
Use active verbs to command presence.
Place the subject at the forefront, not the object, and watch as your presence grows.
Try combining different techniques with this for different results!
Play around with it and let me know in the comments what combinations you are testing in the field!
If you are interested in learning more about conversation or language in general, check out our Youtube channel.
“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”