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Could Your Clients Be Suffering From Your OWA*?

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Could Your Clients Be Suffering From Your OWA*?

For many years I used to work as an ‘ESD Consultant’, and looking back, I’m not proud of it. Let me clarify – it’s not the job itself that I’m not proud of, but the job title. It was given to me by my boss, and I accepted it without hesitation. I presented myself as an ‘ESD Consultant’ on my business card, in my email signature, in my proposals and reports, and often even in face-to-face conversations – always taking for granted that everyone knew what ESD meant.

Let me help you out. ESD stands for Environmentally Sustainable Design. This probably gives you a better idea of what I was doing back then. But at the time it didn’t occur to me that using acronyms – not only in my job title but also in all my professional communication – was a mistake.

Recently, I’ve more often found myself on the receiving end of acronym-packed conversations. I’ve been invited to sign MOUs and NDAs, respond to ROIs and join a COP. You might be familiar with these acronyms, but I must admit, I needed to Google some of them. And then I needed to make educated guesses, trying to pick up the right meaning from 50-100 possible options. Sure, it’s not too difficult to look up an acronym that we don’t understand on the Internet, but there’s something alienating about having to do this.

What can happen when your reader doesn’t understand an acronym you use? Firstly, they may perceive you as arrogant and dismissive of the fact that they are not familiar with the jargon of your industry. Or they might feel a bit embarrassed about not getting what you’re talking about. Perhaps they wonder if they have missed something in an earlier conversation. Or they could question if you’re the right person for them to do business with. After all, you’re speaking a language which is alien to them.

I’m actually rarely shy about asking for clarification when I don’t understand something in a conversation. But when someone casually drops an acronym that I’ve never heard before mid-conversation, the prospect of exposing my ignorance often makes me feel uncomfortable. What if I’m the only person in the room who has no idea what everyone else is talking about? So sometimes I stay quiet instead, and do my best to work out the meaning from context. Or I do my research.

I doubt that I’m alone in that regard. My ‘ESD clients’ back then didn’t ask for clarification either, despite the fact that I used acronyms excessively – just like other consultants in my industry.

Of course, everyone responds differently in these awkward moments. But what’s certain is that these situations don’t help with building rapport and trust. You are also likely to lose the attention of the people you’re talking to, while they are busy figuring out what you mean and how they should respond.

Sure, the occasional use of a careless acronym won’t turn into a drama most of the time. But why would you risk making people feel even a little bit insecure? There’s no value in that, and some of your clients and prospects might not take it too well.

I’m not suggesting that you need to dumb down your communication and to talk to your audience as if they were 6-year-olds. Talking to people in an idiot-proof way can be just as insulting as using overly technical, acronym-packed language. But I’ve never met a person who got upset about finding too few acronyms in a text.

If you happen to know someone like that, please let me know. There will be another story in there.

*Obsession With Acronyms

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