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Frank's Language

Or, “The definition of dun-dun-dun!”

In this blog post, I will attempt to share some of my current thoughts and related ideas on “Shared Languages”.


Years ago, I consulted at a small, tech company. During the onboarding process, I received, among other things, a “glossary of terms”. It contained various words, acronyms, abbreviations, jargon, and phrases that were frequently used by the employees of the company.

One of the terms in the glossary was the word “done” along with its definition. The glossary also contained the term “done-done” but with a different definition. And, the glossary also included the term “done-done-done” with yet another, different definition. Initially, I thought this was crazy. But upon further reflection, I realized it wasn’t crazy, at all. It was brilliant! This company had developed their own Lingua Franca.

A Lingua Franca (literally, “language of the Franks” - also called a “shared” or “trade” language) is any language that is developed and adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different. In medieval times, these “trade languages” were created and used by speakers from different countries and cultures to help facilitate effective communication for commerce, diplomacy, and more.

In this case, this company created and used their own “shared language” for a similar purpose: to help reduce miscommunication and facilitate effective communication between various speakers – all the employees of the company (from teams, departments, and groups like development, testing, IT, marketing, and “the business”).

And, although each, disparate team, department, and group had their own “internal language” (words, acronyms, abbreviations, jargon, and phrases), this company realized the risk of miscommunication and the importance of effective communication and spent sufficient time and effort to create and use a company-wide “shared language”. Within the walls and context of this company, no matter your title or role, everyone understood and agreed on the terms and definitions in the glossary. Everyone knew what each term meant, and how each term differed from every other term.

If someone asked, “What is the status of X?” and the reply was, “It is done-done”, both parties understood and agreed on what that meant. Both parties knew that X was “done-done”, and not "done" or "done-done-done".

It was effective communication!

However, the company also understood that these terms had little (or different or zero) meaning to outsiders (anyone that was not an employee of the company or familiar with their “shared language”). And so, they were careful when using the terms with outsiders. But when they did, they would educate the outsider, sometimes by sharing their “glossary of terms”, but often by simply defining and explaining their definition and meaning of the particular term.

Today, if I encounter a group that has issues with communication, I often suggest that they try and create a "shared language". However, I also warn that creating a “shared language” can be very difficult. Getting any group of people to agree on definitions of terms can be an arduous task. But, if communication is an issue and effective communication is an important goal, then I think it is a worthwhile endeavor.

In My Experience, creating and using a “shared language” is a great way to reduce miscommunication and foster effective communication.

I examine and explore “Shared Languages” in my talk, “CommuTication: Moving Ideas with Words”.

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