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Consider the following scenario. Someone is hired for a job and is new to the career field. For instance, a new accountant.

After being an accountant for a very short period of time, and doing an excellent job as a novice, someone encourages the worker by stating "You will be an excellent accountant."

My question is in regards to the statement "You will be an excellent accountant." Does the statement suggest that if the individual will be a good accountant, which would imply that they are not currently doing a good job? Or, does it mean that the individual will be a good accountant, regardless of any good or bad work they have already accomplished?

I ask this question because there have been times where I have actually wanted to encourage people who are novices but show great potential for success because of the good work they have done. One person I know personally is quite keen to respond with "Oh, so I haven't been doing a good job?" which would seem to imply that such as statement denotes that previous work does not fall within the category of "excellence".

I know this question bridges the gaps of English, logic and etiquitte. If there is no simple answer, I am certainly interested on the community's thoughts and suggestions on how to make such a comment without being excessively verbose or awkward.

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In the context of an accountant, it's important to note that there's a fairly clear dividing line between someone who's in the process of becoming an accountant, and someone who actually is one. So there can be no implication that the "trainee" isn't yet functioning as an fully-qualified accountant, if you say that he will be in future. In other contexts this "unintended put-down" is far more likely to be perceived - you should be wary of saying to a keen teenage guitarist, for example, that he will be an excellent musician. He might well think he already is. –  FumbleFingers Dec 6 '11 at 21:36
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I think the safest thing to do, assume you want to encourage, is to use a strongly positive adjective. If you say "it looks like you'll turn out to be an ok accountant eventually" you really are implying that they aren't even an ok accountant yet. But if you say "you are on track to be a rockstar accountant!" that leaves plenty of room for them to be an ok accountant at the moment, or a rockstar not-an-accountant-yet at the moment.

Of course, the easiest way to be sure your praise gets through as praise is to make it a bit longer and more specific:

  • "You got that done faster than I expected for someone who isn't an accountant yet. Well done, when you become an accountant you'll be excellent."
  • "You did as good a job on that report as any fully-certified accountant could be expected to. You're ready to become an accountant, and on your way to becoming an excellent one."
  • "This report is fantastic. You're a good accountant, and a great one for your age."

And so on.

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Thank you Kate. I've marked this as the answer because it works best with my most recent case in which this was an issue. My question took a professional tone, but most of my cases where I've experienced this setup have primarily been personal. Your response is they type of response I expected. –  RLH Dec 6 '11 at 17:12
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As @Jeremy said, "you will be an excellent accountant" doesn't mean you're doing a bad job now, but you are not yet an "excellent accountant". Jeremy's answer, and I think your question, focuses on the "accountant" part of that, but to me the key word is "excellent". You are an accountant now, but you're not yet excellent. That doesn't mean you're bad; probably you're a competent junior-grade accountant. But "excellent" implies something stronger that will take more time and effort to achieve.

An alternate way to say what you're trying to convey is "you have great potential".

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Per my comment to the question, the issue of whether someone is already an accountant or not is usually well-known to all interested parties. If someone is already an accountant, it would be crass for anyone to say he will be an excellent one. Say he's already excellent if that's what you think, but don't call attention to the fact that you don't think he's particularly good yet. –  FumbleFingers Dec 6 '11 at 21:43
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"You will be an excellent accountant" doesn't imply that they are doing a bad job; it implies that they are not yet an accountant. It would be unusual to express that someone is doing a bad job but that they will end up being excellent.

Why not go with something simple? "You're doing a great job." or "You show a knack for this"

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My most recent case in making such a statement was to also imply that as this particular individual grew into the additional responsibilities, they would excel at the work they would be doing, which will include a great amount of additional work than what they are currently doing. In this case, stating "You will do a good job." is to imply that "You are doing a great job and you will be doing an excellent job in the future when your responsibilities are far greater than they currently are now." –  RLH Dec 6 '11 at 15:38
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