Tuesday: Office Speak | 2

The most surprising thing about my internship so far is the atmosphere of working in an office. Maybe it’s more of an intriguing fascination than a surprise, but that’s what the blog topic is. Either way, every environment is unique and carries its own idiosyncrasies.  I happen to find the office aura particularly humorous. Elements and objects normal to every space combine just right in an office to produce something supernormal — maybe super normal. There is a certain behavior and vernacular that one adopts without question, with or without consent, for the nine or so hours a day in the office; and, upon leaving, leaves said behavior behind. The following contains my best attempt at describing this peculiar “office speak.”

To begin, everything in an office “sounds good,” as if the space itself has some sort of fantastic acoustic properties. “Hey you want some coffee?” “Yeah, sounds good.” “Can you meet after lunch today?” “Sure, sounds good.” Maybe its just common office courtesy to compliment people’s voices. Or, maybe all the cubicles allow for some beautiful overtones, kind of like singing in the shower always makes you sound better. “We’ll pick it up tomorrow from where we left off.” “Alright, yeah. Sounds good.” “What did you think of my new mixtape?” “Sounds good.”

Ok, I made that last one up.

The second thing about an office is that there are many people making plans, many plans, and many things that sound like plans. I’m currently uncertain if there is a difference between the last two. Almost everything “sounds like a plan,” but I’m not sure if everything actually becomes a plan. “We can type up that report later today.” “Yup, sounds like a plan.” “Let me wrap this up and then we’ll get started.” “Alright, sounds like a plan.” I suppose the word plan is slightly ambiguous, but I’d think that research scientists would be able to differentiate between something that is and something that isn’t a plan. Is it some sort of safeguard — a way to suggest that something is a plan without fear of being wrong? A way to hint at it and subtly get the other’s feedback?  Maybe a plan is really sort of a probabilistic thing and it’s only useful to say approximately where something lies on the plan spectrum. I’ve yet to hear someone outright claim that something is a plan, but, if I do, I plan on blogging about it.

One of my favorite aspects of office speak is what I’ll call the “office interaction.” For example, walking past someone and making eye contact, or perhaps going to get coffee and seeing someone else doing the same thing. These interactions are peculiar for several reasons. First, they are neither greetings nor goodbyes. Everyone is there, though you may not be seeing them always. If it is the first time you see, say, Mark, it is totally appropriate to greet him as normal: “Hey, Mark, how’s it going?” However, the next time(s) you see Mark, it is less appropriate to do the standard greeting, because you’ve already done it. How many times can you say hello to the same person in a single day? Further, it is never appropriate, unless it’s the end of the day, to say goodbye — “Alright, take care, Mark” — because there is a very high chance that you will see Mark again some time throughout the rest of the day. What you’re left with is a conservation that neither starts nor ends but is always going on but with brief pauses that picks up in different locations at different times throughout the day throughout the week throughout the entire time you are there — that is, the office interaction.

One thing that’s certain about the office interaction is that nothing is certain. Any topic, related to anything at all, is valid. Coherence is usual though certainly not necessary. Wit, above all, dominates. It almost becomes a contest of sorts, who can come up with the quickest responses and funniest comebacks. No one wants to talk about actual work when an office interaction takes place (for example, getting coffee). That is the brief time when one takes a break from thinking about work. Any topic at all is more desirable to converse over than work when one doesn’t want to think about work. The results can sometimes be banal (weather, weekend, etc.) or bizarre to the point that if I included an example in this blog no one would believe me and it might get taken down for inappropriate content… Ok, maybe not that bizarre, but you get the idea. Maybe the strangeness stems from the fact that the topics are actually normal but, due to the setting, they seem exquisitely exotic.

The office really is a universe of its own, a place with its own laws and customs and conventions. Everything seems ordinary, but there is something more to it. I suppose it’s hard to explain unless you’ve actually experienced it for yourself. Or, maybe I’m just making too much of a caricature out of it — I didn’t plan on doing that, I just wanted to make the blog sound good. Hey Mark, how’s the new sofa?

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