The Fire Hydrant Habit: Does Your Communication Sabotage Your Power?

Consider the fire hydrant’s purpose. Your neighborhood fire plug lets firefighters tap into the municipal water system to extinguish a fire. They attach a hose to the cast iron hydrant, screw open a valve and whoosh, out comes a powerful flow of water. Simple enough.

But have you ever considered how you might be using a fire hydrant habit when you communicate? Someone requests the communication equivalent of a sip of water but instead, you screw open a hydrant… and flood them with too much information. Perhaps you launch into long-winded explanations when you’re asked simple questions. Maybe you send e-mails two screens long with five attachments.

Perhaps you leave voice mails so lengthy that you get cut off by the beep.

If so, people are having frustrating experiences communicating with you and it’s damaging your credibility. People are probably avoiding communicating with you as a result. They see your name on caller ID and let it go to voice mail. They ignore your emails. They interrupt you constantly during presentations, meetings and other face-to-face interactions.

If you’re getting these outcomes, it’s time to stop the flow of blah, blah, blah. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Think portion control
  • Aim for clarity, not confusion
  • Answer questions first, justify them second
  • Use shorter sentences
  • Send succinct, frontloaded e-mails
  • Use bullets instead of run-on sentences
  • Use visuals instead of text whenever possible
  • Present info narrow and deep, not wide and shallow
  • Be aware of the effect you have on people

Like a dieter counting calories, put yourself on a communication diet. We must all re-learn what a proper serving size is in today’s world where we’re bombarded with communications 24/7.

Once you overcome the fire hydrant habit, you’ll see that others seek your input and stay tuned in when you talk. Just as importantly, people will happily park themselves within six feet of you without the fear of being soaked by a data dump.

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