Are You Being Rude or Am I an Idiot?

Using Lingo in Business Communications

Imagine you have just walked in on a conversation-in-progress between long-time friends when one references an inside joke that prompts rolls of laughter. You might smile politely, if not a little uncomfortably, and wait for one of them to explain the “you had to be there” moment. Although the story won’t prove to be all that funny (because you really did have to be there) there is no expectation that you should get the location joke without a point of reference. You are an outsider.

Inside corporate jargon is a lot like a location joke, and if you are the outsider who doesn’t get it, you could be missing (or misunderstanding) critical information. Conversely, if you are the offending party using undecipherable business-speak, you could be unwittingly alienating the people with whom you are trying to communicate.

So what is proper business etiquette surrounding business-speak? Is it incumbent upon the outsider to get up to speed, or should the acronym-happy insider have more consideration for his audience? As with all social mores, it depends entirely on the situation.

Effective communication is about creating clarity and understanding. If you are a new employee, then you had better dive in and learn the company lingo. If you are a potential customer, then you should expect thoughtful communication that you can clearly understand without the need to interrupt to ask for definitions. When creating marketing collateral, corporate jargon that refers to internal structures or product nomenclature (that is not a registered trademark) can easily confuse your audience and should be avoided entirely.

Rules of etiquette are created to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and knows how to behave in specific situations. If your spouse or your grandparent wouldn’t understand corporate-speak, don’t use it when addressing them or anyone who isn’t part of your field. And above all, don’t assume your clients or customers understand your vernacular; you need to use theirs. It’s polite, and it will help your business.

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