If you’ve ever attended a spouse’s office party, you’ve probably found yourself staring at your drink after one employee says something like, “Yeah, but don’t ever give Bob a glass of 7-Up!,” and everyone else in the room collapses into convulsions of hysterical laughter. When the laughter dies down, your blank expression is answered with a “It’s a long story … I’ll tell you later.”
Every organization has its inside humor, its own history, and the tales that can’t really be appreciated by those who function outside its walls – and there’s nothing wrong with that. It becomes a bad thing only when the organization bases its messages to the outside world on that inside information.
It doesn’t work, because people who haven’t been involved just won’t get it. They can’t get it. They don’t know the backstory or the intricacies of the personalities involved in the tale. Making a reference to Karen’s inability to drive a ball straight won’t mean anything to the folks who weren’t in her foursome at that golf outing. A chuckling aside about George’s fashion sense will earn blank stares from anyone who wasn’t there the day he came out of the restroom with his briefs visible. And a reference to the company’s proprietary quality control program will mean nothing to anyone who wasn’t in the sessions.
Keeping the inside jokes and information inside will keep you from frustrating outsiders and looking like you’re trying to exclude others. Before you include an anecdote or an obscure reference, ask yourself if the readers will “get it.” If not, forget it.