Friday, January 30, 2009

Stop using conditional verbs!

Take this quick questionnaire:

1.)Do you use "could, would, should, may, and might" often in your business writing?

2.)Do Asians or Americans use "could, would, should, may, and might" more often in business writing?

3.)Do men or women use "could, would, should, may, and might" more often in business writing?

If you answered "Asians" to the second question, you answered correctly. If you answered "women" to the third question, you answered correctly. If you answered "yes" to the first question, I want to change your verb usage!

But, first let's talk about Asians and women. Why do Asians and women use the conditional (or subjunctive) mood of verbs more often than Americans and men?

Remember, early on we said that a communication involves a sender, a receiver, message, medium, feedback, and noise, all of which exists in a context and with cultural considerations. Let's think about my question, then, in light of the differences in cultures - Asian culture and American culture.

On the whole, the Asian culture is more accommodating and deferential than American culture, especially the American business culture. When I visited India a couple years back, I saw first-hand how deferential and accommodating Indian people are. To me this meant kind, generous, and amiable. I know it sounds a little stereotypical, but I experienced it that way, and my many students and friends from India always agree with me when I ask if they use the conditional form of the verb more often.

Interestingly, too, when I ask women - Asian or otherwise - about the use of conditional language, they routinely agree that women use this form of the verb more often. And, at least one researcher has shown that women use conditional because they are, not necessarily more accommodating, but more collaborative. Women, on the whole, communicate to build relationships. Men do not.

In any event, if you are communicating in America, or with American business people, I suggest you stop using conditional verbs. Don't submit a report to the CEO, or other C-level person, and say, "We might invest in this or that." Instead, be confident; say that we "must" or we "will" invest in this or that, or, "I recommend that we invest in this." Be confident. Don't give the executive group any reason to doubt you. Don't give them any reason not to accept your recommendation. In any job, you are being paid for your experience, your education, your intelligence, your insights, your opinions. Give them directly and with more confidence!

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