Our topic today is a little bit unusual – it is definitely something you don’t learn in school. But, surprisingly, I have found it to be a very useful tool in my career.
You know what an inside joke is. It is something between you and another person that you share and only understood because you have a shared context. You can talk about It in front of other people, and although they can understand all of the words you are saying, because they don’t have the context, they don’t get the deeper meaning. Inside jokes are usually funny, and can sometimes border on mean or cruel if the joke you share is at someone else’s expense.
What I want to talk about today is like an inside joke, but not funny or mean. I’ll call it a verbal shortcut.
A verbal shortcut is something between you and another person that you use to quickly communicate a full idea using shortened words. You’ve established up-front a specific context for the short cut that means that everyone understands the underlying context when the agreed upon short cut is spoken.
You probably already have some that you use without even realizing it. But, by thinking about it as an efficiency tool, you may find that you could purposefully implement more of these shortcuts into your work and find an improvement.
Let me give you some examples that I’ve used over the years.
One of the most recent ones I’ve learned is the verbal shortcut “Left Hand Column.” If you aren’t familiar with this one – hearing those 3 words may not mean much to you. But, when I say those words to one of my coworkers who has been initiated into the use of the phrase, they know exactly what I’m getting at. The phrase “left hand column” means – “here is what I’m really thinking and I’m about to tell you something you may not want to hear.”
By giving this idea a short cut term, we’ve normalized it as part of our culture. Because we have established a protocol that has established the use of this short cut term as an acceptable way to voice our negative thoughts, we are more effective.
Another favorite example that I use all the time is the shortcut “blue car.” This is something I say when I’ve gotten way off topic. It is the same idea as the dog who gets sidetracked by the squirrel in the Movie Up. It is used to tell people – ok, we have gotten completely sidetracked by this unrelated and off-topic discussion and need to come back to the original purpose of the meeting.
These shortcuts don’t work if the others aren’t indoctrinated into the meaning. If I’m in a meeting with a group of people who don’t know what “blue car” means and I say “ok, this is a blue car and we need to move on,” then they all just think I’ve lost my mind.
But, by introducing these verbal short cuts to your department, or the people you work most closely with, you can make an impact on effectiveness.
There are a lot of factors that contribute.
Where Verbal Shortcuts Come From
How do these short cuts come about? A lot of times, they develop over time and out of a situation or context that occurred. For example, I was talking with a colleague when his daughter came into the room and asked him if she could have ice cream. He told her no, but she could have a frozen grape.
I don’t have kids, so frozen grapes may be new to me for that reason, but I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. What kind of a substitute is a frozen grape when what you really want is ice cream? To me, this sounded like bait and switch.
But, my colleague told me his kids love frozen grapes. So, for them, although it may not quite be ice cream, it was an acceptable compromise.
Now, when my colleague and I are talking about how to come up with a solution everyone can live with, we say it is a frozen grape. The client asked for us to assign a project manager to their project full time at no additional cost. That’s not going to be possible, but maybe we can give them the PM at cost as a frozen grape.
I’ve been using blue car for so long that I don’t remember how it came about, but I’ve taken it with me from company to company. It means that I sometimes have to explain it to my new team, but because I use it frequently, they eventually get used to the term.
And sometimes, the short cut gets introduced more formally. For instance, Left Hand Column came about from a training session that all of the managers in my company went through.
So, verbal shortcuts can come in many forms. Over the coming days, keep your eyes out for them. You probably have some in your life already. Look for places where you might be able to introduce a shortcut that would improve efficiency or effectiveness for your work.
It may be something small – a way to communicate to your coworker that you can’t be disturbed, or that although you’d love to catch up, you just done have time. It might be a way to communicate with your manager that you are stressed and just not at your best. Or, it might be with a team you are part of that could use a short cut to deal with a certain recurring theme.
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