Stop Using Acronyms

One of the hardest problems in business (right along with all of the other hardest problems in business) is communication. Every industry, and honestly every business, has its own terminology that you need to be aware of.

You know what a lot of businesses also have (and often overuse)? Acronyms. And we need to reverse that trend.

Acronyms make life miserable for people who are new to your org because they have absolutely no idea what they mean. Experienced people often use them without a second thought because they’ve been conditioned to think that they save time (they don’t, really) and because “everybody else uses them” (fitting in with the group is often a survival mechanism).

On the extreme end, you have people who get offended if you ask what an acronym means (because that means you “don’t get it”) or if you suggest that they’re overusing them.

I once had a manager who insisted on shortening anything that he thought he could possibly turn into an acronym and would then whine when people asked him to explain himself. It made meetings miserable and take far longer than they should for the simple reason that nobody knew what was actually being said.

He was by far the worst person I’ve encountered with regard to that sort of thing, and that’s saying something considering that I’ve spent some time working for the Department of Defense (where it seems like everything is an acronym).

Don’t be like that. Language should be accessible. It’s literally created to allow people to communicate. In fact, the metric by which you judge the language you use in business should be how difficult it is for a new member of your team to understand what you’re saying.

Seriously. If you can’t explain what you’re speaking or writing about to someone brand new to your organization in such a way that they’re able to get 90% of what you’re trying to convey, you’re doing it wrong. And the other 10% should be due to things like domain specific knowledge requirements; not having to decode jargon.

Acronyms that are the name of a system are something of an exception, because they’re being used as the proper name for that thing, but when that happens, explain what it actually means to new people. Another possible exception is widely understood acronyms, though you’ll still want to list the meaning of those the first time in a written document and offer to explain them when you use them in conversation.

Other than that, leave the acronyms out of it when you can. The less cognitive load you place on people trying to understand a topic, the better off everyone generally is.

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