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Best and Worst Ways to Use Sports in the Office

Sports conversations play out every day in workplaces across America.

  • Work in the sports industry, like me?  You’re talking about sports.
  • You’re a sports fan?  You’re talking about sports.
  • Work with a sports fan?  You’re listening to that fan talk about sports.
  • Participating in a fantasy baseball league?  You’re thinking and talking sports.

Sports headlines, topics and events make great fodder for small talk at work.  And being part of the conversation can even help you become more productive, if you know how to use sports conversations the right way.

Best Ways to Use Sports in the Office

Find common interests

Sports in the OfficeThis might happen when you and you coworker discover you share a love of SEC football, American League baseball or World Cup Soccer.  But you could just as easily discover interests outside of the game or sport itself.   For example, perhaps SEC football strikes a chord because you both grew up in the south.  Your common interest could be that area of the country.  Sometimes your common interest will have nothing to do with sports.  For example, maybe you ask your coworker if he/she is planning to watch the NFL playoffs and the response is no, he/she will be going on a winetasting trip that weekend.  If you share an interest in wine that’s your common interest and you can potentially skip the sports question next time and ask about the best wine they’ve tried recently.

To build camaraderie and rapport

This means keeping a level head and resisting the urge to go into fan overdrive or ultimate fan mode.  That can lead to “over-enthusiastic” discussions, a.k.a. fights and arguments that make camaraderie nonexistent.

As a way to avoid hot button issues

Money, politics, religion and sex make poor conversation topics at work – unless you work in a profession that requires you to talk about one of those subjects.  Tread lightly when these subjects come up and do your best to stay away altogether.  The emotions that come to light in these conversations easily lead to hurt feelings and disagreements, which make it difficult to increase likability and rapport.

Stay on the radar

This is particularly helpful to salespeople working with clients at various points throughout the year.  It’s not always necessary to be in constant communication about business issues.  Try sending a short note commenting on a client’s favorite team or player.  That action is enough to keep you “top of mind,” and increase rapport as well as the chances of repeat business.

As a teaching tool

Be it teamwork, performance under pressure, time management or what not to wear at work – you’ll find several examples in the sports world that allow you to illustrate your point without pointing fingers.   Need to talk about appropriate work attire?  The Inez Sainz story in 2010 would have been great way to open the discussion.  This doesn’t mean you won’t have to have a more direct conversation with an employee or group of employees but it can help broach a sensitive subject in a professional manger.  There are sports stories making headlines in newspapers, Internet and on sportscasts daily that provide plenty of material for larger workplace discussions.

To cross management lines

A working knowledge of sports enables you to relate to everyone from the nighttime custodial crew to the office assistant all the way up to the CEO.  Anyone can have an interest in sports and it’s a safe subject that won’t land you in hot water with your boss.

For all the camaraderie and rapport sports conversations provide, they can be detrimental if used incorrectly.  Don’t stunt your professional growth by making the following mistakes.

Worst Ways to Use Sports in the Office

As a power play

Sports in the OfficeUnless you work in the sports industry it doesn’t matter if can correctly recite ever start from last night’s game. (Let me let you in on a little secret – even when you work in sports we don’t memorize every stat – that’s what game notes are for.  Trust me, I’m a sports reporter and do this for a living.)  Your impulse to spout stat after stat to prove how much you know ruins your chance to build rapport.

To be a know-it-all

This goes hand in hand with the aforementioned “power play.”  No one likes a know-it-all, in fact that’s one of the top complaints I hear from people who are irritated with their sports-talking coworkers.  Chances are no one cares.  They’re not impressed, and your likeability takes a hit when you spout all of your ‘knowledge.’  The goal of sports talk at work is to engage with your co-workers and colleagues.  That won’t happen if you try to be a know-it-all.

To Point Out Flaws

It’s not uncommon for sports conversations to take a turn and become personal attacks.  Fans are passionate about their teams and many feel a close association with a particular team.  So much so, that attacks on their team feel like they were aimed squarely at the heart, soul and even character of the fan.  In my experience, men tend to feel this associate more closely than women, so be aware that you don’t start attacking your coworkers through their teams.  Saying things like this could easily be taken to heart and damage a relationship.

  •  “That was such a stupid move. I can’t believe anyone would pay money to see a team do that every night.”
  • “How could anyone think that trade would pay off?”
  • “What kind of moron makes that decision with under 2 minutes to play?”

As a badge of honor

So you watched even inning of baseball played by your local team and DVR’d every football game to watch 3 times as ‘film study.’ Kudos to you – but no one cares.   No one in your office, anyway, who is trying to focus on his/her job, running kids to soccer, ballet and piano, in addition, to grocery shopping and cleaning the house.  There’s nothing wrong with being invested in your team but don’t expect everyone else to feel the same way.  Certainly don’t expect your level of fanaticism to raise your status at work.

As a way to challenge or pick fights

One of the reasons sports conversations work is because they keep you away from the hot button topics.  Don’t turn a great, all-encompassing subject into a fight in the break room.  You’re ruining a great opportunity to build relationships and becoming a divisive factor at work that will affect other opportunities.

Do you have conversations about sports in the office or everyday work environment?  How do they affect your relationships with your co-workers? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a tweet!

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