Does this email look familiar?

Hey John -- Just checking up on the GNS reports for the CXOs. Would love to showcase some of the RepDev strats in the upcoming DRoP deck, and that's due in a couple of weeks. Let me know if you can ship over some green stats, as they would def help. Thanks -- C.

I have spent too many hours parsing emails like this -- not just as a fresh hire, but as a tenured employee. 

I've even received cryptic messages, riddled with unknown acronyms or initialisms, as the target of cold sales emails. Why would I bother to translate? Into the trash they go.

General business culture is accustomed to this acronym-speak. They litter our communication and prop up our messaging. While they are designed to balance clarity and efficiency, they often result in the exact opposite: frustrating confusion.

It has to stop. Here's why:

Acronyms often alienate new talent.

Nothing sours a freshly onboarded employee more than making them feel like an outsider. If you introduce them to the company with opaque acronym-speak, they're bound to be lost. How long do you suppose they'll stick around when they can't understand their colleagues?

Acronyms hamper prospect understanding.

The goal of communication should be understanding. This is achievable with clarity, concision, and simplicity. Acronyms, however, are a language only a select group of people can speak fluently. Use them and risk pushing away prospects who don't have time to decipher your messaging.

Acronyms create an us vs. them dynamic.

Increasingly, businesses are figuring out how to make the customer the center of their sales and service. When you communicate with acronyms and abbreviations, however, you become less accessible (and certainly less helpful). An us vs. them dichotomy is often created, feeding a reputation of inaccessibility. That equals lost business -- even from once-loyal customers.

Acronyms hurt our ability to communicate.

The more we use shortcuts in our communication, the less able we are to convey ideas in simple English. We forget what each acronym really stands for -- not just the individual letters, but the purpose behind it. Worse yet, we lose the ability to explain foundational reasoning, mission, and vision clearly. I've even heard it said: "What was the purpose of the XQUER project again?"

Acronyms are lazy.

Laziness, as studies have shown, quickly becomes an ingrained bad habit -- one that permeates our entire lives. We lean on shortcuts and miss the bigger picture. We may even hurt relationships because of our unwillingness to communicate meaningfully and follow-through on our promises. 

This may sound extreme, but in my time in business, I've seen acronyms eat away at understanding, relationships, and sales opportunities. Sure, they have their place -- carefully and occasionally used to save a bit of space in a harried email or on a limited-space slide deck. (Read: Offering efficiency without sacrificing clarity.) But they should not be part of regular communication. 

If you're tempted to use an acronym, initialism, or abbreviation, put it to the test with four key questions:

  • Will my entire audience know what this stands for? If not, don't use it.

  • Is my messaging more confusing if I use this? If it is, don't use it.

  • Am I using this without knowing what it means or stands for? If yes, don't use it.

  • Does the use of this acronym/initialism slow down comprehension and, by extension, communication efficiency? If yes, don't use it.