The Tyranny of Three Letter Acronyms

The Tyranny of Three Letter Acronyms

OK – so it might be all right in Texting and WhatsApp with close associates and lets face it Twitter relies on it – but what happens when they spill out into every day communications?

Am I the only person who finds the routine use of three or four letter acronyms enough to make me SOB? As luck has it I’m not a shy person and so when my own mental translation of SOB didn’t make any sense to me in a busy team meeting I asked politely for an explanation. It’s clear now on telling this story to others that whilst my mental wrestling was giving me Shortness Of Breath, others were out to get the Son Of a Bitch! But both of these explanations were rather different from the Strategic Outline Business case being described by a colleague on that particular day!

Now I’ll be honest, the eradication, or serious restraint at least, in the use of three letter acronyms have become a bit of a crusade for me working as I do with very many teams and tribes in very many organisations – its just not possible to keep up with them all.

But this IS a serious issue. Firstly, there’s the brain overload that abbreviations can cause: Do I ‘filter it out’ to ease the brain ache the moment they are mentioned, or invest time searching my memory for a translation that seems to match? Either way, communication is compromised, productive conversations curtailed, opportunities to develop shared purpose lost and, on occasions I fear, important decisions and actions put in jeopardy.

Then there’s the subtle but ever present power play, with juniors and new comers left on the outside wondering whether they dare ask for a translation: Do I keep quiet, hope no one will notice I’m not following the conversation and keep my head down to avoid being asked to act, or speak up and risk looking foolish or receive disapproving looks from senior?

Where are these abbreviations used without translation? Well, almost everywhere AND in epidemic proportions. Team meetings, slide decks, oral presentations, emails and briefing notes passed down from on high – with all the good intent in the world to communicate – left to chance.

Of course despite training myself out of it, I still catch myself –  but not so very often as I used to.

Why not try checking yourself out – you might be surprised, and even a little shocked. Do share your best ones with on Twitter @QICLearn #TLAtranslator #qic.

If it’s worth saying something about healthcare, isn’t it worth making sure all your audience understands and not just your immediate tribe, family and friends?