Inside humor should stay there

Have you ever attended a spouse’s office party and not been sure how to react when someone’s comment sends the room into gales of laughter? Someone says something like, “Yeah, but don’t ever hand Karen a glass of milk,” and everyone but you collapses into convulsions of hysterical laughter. You glance at your spouse, who replies with “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. That’s normal, and it only becomes a problem when the organization starts to incorporate that inside information into its messages to the outside world.

That just doesn’t work, because people who haven’t been inside 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 Bill’s inability to drive a ball straight won’t mean anything to the folks who weren’t in his foursome at that golf outing. A grinning reference to 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 training 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.