Lest you conclude from the last two posts on Office Talk that only accountants are contributing to the content in this column, let's take a look (this week and next) at what America's Bravest have inspired. We start with a phrase that appears to be spreading through the Valley like an epidemic, drinking from a firehose, which the excellent Urban Dictionary defines, successively, as "to be overwhelmed (with information, work, etc.)," "to do something intensely," and, less helpfully, as "to be inundated" (with no apparent tribute to this second watery metaphor).
The premise of this column is that office cliches betray our unconscious feelings about the workplace and our co-workers. On that level, drinking from a firehose does not disappoint. Next time you hear the phrase, just imagine your co-worker actually drinking from a firehose -- an act of masochistic violence -- and you will "see" what I mean. Another office cliche -- getting hosed -- gets to the point in a more transparent way. I assure you, you do not want be to get hosed, a phrase that appears to have college origins (Urban Dictionary: "to be completely mentally and physically exhausted from completing some form of academic work typically within the last 8 hours of it being due"). And if you are like the many college athletes-turned-businessmen who are found of using the phrase, perhaps you'd prefer to do the hosing, for I've noticed that the emotion that usually accompanies to use of that expression can only be described as gleeful.
I became aware of the complex emotional play that underlies drinking from a firehose not long ago in conversation with a client who, to paraphrase the definition above, is fond of doing everything intensely. We were wrapping up a messaging session, when he turned to me.
CLIENT: Wow, there's so much here.
CLIENT: (excited) Intense.
CLIENT: (more excited) Like drinking water from a firehose.
I had to agree, for already, in my mind, I was working to filter and channel the, er, torrent of words that spewed forth during the meeting, that cascaded over the artificial boundaries of our messaging session. After all, that's what I get paid to do, and I do it well. But what was interesting was the sparkle in his eye, his relaxed manner, his body language -- he had kicked up his legs on the conference room table, was leaning back in his chair, happily, with an imaginary, post-prandial cigar in his mouth (where, supposedly, the firehose should have been). This was a man who was not at all overwhelmed. It then occured to me: it wasn't his job to do the filtering and channeling -- again, that was my job. And if anyone would have to do the drinking, it would be me. But the moment also illuminated why, despite our very different personality profiles, my client and I worked so well together. I might have been forced to drink from a firehose, but, without me, my client was in danger of getting hosed. I smiled (though not quite gleefully). It's nice to be needed.
NEXT WEEK ON OFFICE TALK: "FIRE DRILLS"