I was sitting in a meeting recently with our IT providers.  They remarked that moving our website to AWS would be a T&M project, and that they would be able to fit the work into the next iteration.  All this left me, a mere psychologist, a little confused.  I should not have been surprised, though.  They were speaking code.

We all speak code.  Every profession has its own terminology which is very effective shorthand when one cognoscento is talking to another one, and exclusive to all the other people in the world who are not part of the in group.

This experience made me reflect on the function of language.  Language evolved to allow people to communicate effectively, but it also evolved to exclude and marginalise “out groups” – the people we typically refer to as “they” and “them”.  This is why every subculture adopts their own language.  I listened recently to an interview with jazz great Kurt Elling.  Kurt is one of my favourite musicians, and a true jazz icon.  He regularly in the interview referred to people as “cats” – classic jazz patois but somewhat irritating to outsiders.

This is also why millennials pride themselves on their text and chat room language and get so irritated when their daggy relatives inexpertly attempt it.  Incidentally, in chat room language “PIR” means “Parents in room”, implying to the other party that now is not a good time to type anything embarrassing or incriminating.  Worth knowing if you happen to be a parent.

In fact, if you look at the history of human groupings you will see that as soon as a group is established they unconsciously begin to build their own set of symbols and expressions which says to all the insiders “you belong” and to the outsiders “you don’t”.  This is true of political movements and parties, movements in the world of art, sporting clubs, religions – whatever assemblies of people you can think of.

I believe that if you want to have happy stakeholders you have to abandon code.

You have to try to see the world and express it from the counter-party’s point of view rather than your own.  In my world – the world of consulting, this capability is a very strong predictor of the success of individual consultants.  The good ones – the big billing and well respected ones – have the ability to learn and adopt the language and symbols of their clients rather than attempting to impose theirs on the clients.

Some of us who are in the world of human resources management regularly alienate our line managers by using HR speak.  You can see their eyes glaze over at phrases like “competency modelling”, “authentic leadership” and “collegiality”.  We use these terms because they are second nature to us, and we are very comfortable with them, but we should not forget the exclusive power of language.  These phrases say to non HR people, “You are not one of us.”  Not a good way to get high satisfaction ratings.

Below I have given some examples of code phrases I picked up in HR documents over the last few months.  I have then suggested in column two a decoded equivalent.  See what you think.

Code phrase Decoded phrase
High levels of engagement and satisfaction from clients of the business unit. Happy customers.
Relatives of the resident (in an aged care facility) are advocates of the facility due to their satisfaction with the service that the resident receives. The families of the residents are happy.
The record of the recruitment team demonstrates that staff recruited possess the skills and attitudes necessary to do their jobs effectively and they do not bring high levels of counterproductive work behaviours with them into the workforce. We have hired the right people.
Employees possess a clear shared vision of the future of the organisation and have a high level of engagement and enthusiasm to participate on a journey of discovery as we pursue the destination. Staff understand where the organisation is going  and they want to help it get there.


I could have kept going for hours, but I think you get the picture.

Andrew Marty
Managing Director

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Andrew Marty