Any time I think of how we use jargon and acronyms on a daily basis, I am reminded about how confusing it can be. Especially, as I am teleported back to a much earlier time in my career when I had a site visit with a client in the UK.
There were five of us in the room. Four members of the client’s team and me. I was a little outnumbered. Still, I felt very welcome.
There was great excitement that day, as we chatted about an upcoming sales project. We got stuck into discussing the logistics of the plan working out what we needed to do and by whom.
Everything was going smoothly and then I hit a wall.
Earlier, I had noticed my colleagues use a lot of lingo and numerous abbreviations when they talked about a particular subject. Needless to say, I could appreciate it was normal conversation for them and they probably didn’t even notice they were doing it. I also understood most of what they were saying; yet I started to get a bit confused.
I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t contributing to the meeting, so I spoke up and asked what various acronyms and technical terms meant. The team were courteous and politely explained what they were talking about and on occasion apologised for their use of “company language”.
Our meeting continued. But I got to the stage where I felt I couldn’t keep asking people to explain the various expressions, so I let them talk on. After a while, I became a little baffled and realised I needed to speak up. So, I asked “what did the sales orders have to do with part X of the project”.
Everyone stopped and looked at me for what felt like an eternity. One of the women asked me what I meant by the sales order. responded with “SOP – the sales order – as in sales order processing”. She looked at me and then smiled as it dawned on her, saying “I get it, you think of SOP as sales order processing. Here, we use it to describe standard operations procedures”.
In that exact moment, there was a sense of eureka as everyone recognised there was a simple misunderstanding. Everyone laughed and although I was a little embarrassed, the client kindly brushed it off and apologised for using so many technical terms.
Once the misunderstanding was out of the way, the meeting continued on successfully. However, we had all learnt a valuable lesson that day.
What I took away was to realise we should never assume people fully understand what we are saying when we use a lot of technical language and “company speak”. People will often take a guess at what we mean (which could be wrong) and they won’t always speak up when they get confused.
I also realised there are multiple meanings for the same acronym. A while later, out of curiosity, I decided to check up how many sayings exist for “SOP”. I was quite surprised to see there were many. According to the Freedictionary.com, there are 131 different meanings, whilst accroymfinder.com came up with 126. For example, some of the business-related ones I could relate to include “Statement of Purpose…Stock Option Plan…System Optimisation Plan…Scope of Practice… Separation of Powers… Security of Payments… State of Play”.
Now I wonder how many more exist for some of the other popular ones?