When you first joined your last company did you find you didn’t understand what people were saying? Or do you find yourself having to translate when talking to friends about what you do in order to remove the ‘jargon’ from your conversation?
Many books have been written on the subject of office jargon and the press, especially the BBC (who ironically has its own secret language) seem keen on spurning such vernacular. But the questions should really be: ‘is it healthy for the organisation?’ How would you begin to answer this question? Joel Spolsky wrote in a recent blog about how Microsoft and IBM both have their own languages. During the beginning of the computer age, IBM was determined to call hard drives ‘fixed disks’ and PCs ‘workstations’. Often the social motivations for sticking resolutely to your own terminology is an important one that relates to social cohesion and the reinforcement of identity. It’s through these symbols of identity that we know we belong. It’s the same as friends and families having their own personal jokes and pet names for each other. If you woke up one morning to find your best friend or son/daughter calling you something completely new you might find it a lot odd.
So we’ve established that identity is a healthy outcome of corporate jargon, but when is it unhealthy? How about when it becomes a serious barrier to integrating a new employee? Or for anyone who’s a non-permanent member of your organisation such as a freelancer or even a client? If they can’t understand a word you’re saying, what’s the point?
There’s also secret languages that span organisations, and you could argue, define affiliations such as being a ceramicist. If I said I was a ceramicist, and you happen to be one too, we’re bound to start using language that would ostracize anyone not familiar with the field.
What secret language do you use in your firm? Is it healthy or does it unnecessarily isolate you and hinder collaboration with outsiders?