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The Secret Decoder Ring and Strong Cultures
We often listen to the jargon, acronyms, and idioms of an organizational culture and think how ridiculous it is for people to speak in code. Once an organization embraces this need for verbal shorthand, anything complex or repetitive finds its way to an abbreviated expression.
To those outside the circle or who haven’t been given the time to assimilate the glossary of terms, this seems like a pretentious style of communication. When jargon is used for the purpose of making something seem more important or newer than it is, people tune out. As one writer so aptly puts it, “Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
Inside an organization, however, acronyms and idioms work as a glue, bringing people together and making everything seem distinctive. Much like the secret decoder ring popular in childhood, the jargon used inside organizations distinguishes who is in the “club.” In that sense, abbreviated expressions draw people in and include them, making everyone feel a part.
Strong cultures are defined by the unique ways they do everyday tasks. Novel expressions that save time when describing those tasks are an emblem of a cohesive group. As team members share a common vocabulary of shortened words and phrases, they also share a common identity. Good leaders don’t see abbreviated expressions as a problem, but rather as a symbol of a resolute culture.
Large organizations do face a problem when jargon becomes team or division-specific. Colleagues across the enterprise can feel like outsiders when they enter into discussions with their partners. Another challenge leaders confront is how to get new colleagues, unfamiliar with the acronyms, up to speed quickly so the abbreviated speech doesn’t make them feel unwelcome.
Both challenges can be overcome by:
Acknowledging the reasons for abbreviated speech.
Intentionally defining what things mean when using them.
While jargon, acronyms, and idioms can present some challenges, their ability to compress people together through shared meaning and expression is a boon for cultures. Leaders don’t have to worry about creating abbreviated expressions on purpose, as subject matter specialists do so without thinking much about it. The expressions picked up and used by others who are not specialists attest to the power such speech has on making people feel understood more quickly. As one writer put it, “Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession.” The same is true for organizational cultures.