Stop Using a Secret Language

By: Jeff Robbins

It’s your first day on the job. After a long week of onboarding, you’re eager to impress and show off your experience. You log into the team communication feed, and this message is waiting from your new boss.

“Welcome to the ACM team @mike! Can’t wait to see your bumps to the RPOC17.2 for YC17! Don’t forget to pg ops and sales on at the neck so they can drip on the PC and ^112. See you at the ghang at 1!”

Womp, womp.

Does this message make sense to the boss? Of course. Would a veteran employee get it? Probably. What about new hires? Not a chance. So, what just happened to this fresh, eager employee? Morale, confidence, creativity, and autonomy plummeted, while stress, isolation, and pressure skyrocketed… all in less than 30 seconds.

For new employees, it can be daunting to try to understand a load of new tools, systems, and processes all at the same time. When you add an exclusive internal language to the mix, the transition can feel impossible.

As your team communicates, it’s going to be natural for shortcuts, inside jokes, and common references to develop. For more experienced employees, it can feel rewarding and empowering to be privy to this information and to know that they have mastered the secret language. There’s a feeling of accomplishment, confidence, and job security. They’re “in the club.” While that’s great for loyalty, it’s terrible for progress.

Terminology that is unique to a manager or team creates silos that only include the cohorts that can interpret their messages. Then, when newcomers are introduced to the group, the result will inevitably be alienation, miscommunication, and stunted efficiency.

I know, I know. You are probably thinking, “This is easily solved with a company glossary.” Sure, but who is going to keep it up? And think of the productivity that will be lost when a team member has to open the glossary every time a new message pops up in Slack. It’s just one more unnecessary Google Doc for new hires to read and remember, on top of all their new responsibilities.

And this problem isn’t just limited to instant messaging, either. What about external communications? Your secret language terms can mean one thing at your company but something entirely different at another. Who else has been on the receiving end of emails and calendar invites from other companies boasting an acronym in the title of a scheduled meeting? Or received an email that is peppered with words you’ve never heard of. Yes, it happens. But it shouldn’t. You’re distancing yourself from the people you’re trying to connect with. You cannot assume communication tools will do the work of communicating for you.

The solution is simple: instead of abbreviating everything and assuming others will understand, why not add a few more syllables to your communication? A few seconds of typing will save minutes of interpretation. It’s not that hard.

Remotip #8: Stop using insider lingo within your team.