Understanding Etiquette Part Seven: Sports Field Etiquette and the Workplace

Welcome back to Understanding Etiquette – the series where we get to grips with the customary codes of polite behavior, and how to abide by them.

In last edition, we talked about the fundamentals of business etiquette. In this edition, we’re getting into advanced business etiquette territory, showing how sports field etiquette can apply to the workplace.

Business and leisure are two very different spheres. But, we can apply a lot of the principles we practice on the field or court to our professional life and get great results in the process.

So without further ado, let’s dive in with a lesson in one of the fundamentals of good sportsmanship.

Be a team player

In business, very few people work alone. Most of us are part of a company or corporation comprising hundreds or thousands of people. Chances are that you work within a small group of those hundreds or thousands to perform a particular task that your company requires.

When you’re in close proximity to that group of people day in, day out, it’s easy for them to start getting on your nerves. Heck, that’s what happens when you’re in close proximity to anyone. But, it’s important to keep in mind that these people are your teammates, and viewing them as a team is essential to getting the work done to a good standard.

When a task comes our way, it’s tempting to hog the ball and try to score all the goals ourselves. That’s especially true if we’re gunning for a promotion, or feel that we’re especially qualified to perform the task at hand. But, in truth, this kind of self-centered thinking has two decidedly negative effects:

  • It strains our relationships with our colleagues
  • Even if we get the job done, it makes us look big-headed to our superiors

Work with the people in your department. Get to know your fellow employees, understand their strengths and their weaknesses and learn how to work with them rather than next to them. Not only will this make your day-to-day life more enjoyable and rewarding, it’ll get the job done better as well. That’s part of the reason employers value team players so much.

Oh, and one more thing on that subject, don’t be afraid to feed the ball to a rookie player once in a while. Helping the juniors in your office to improve is good for the company, good for your team, and good for you. They won’t be juniors forever, and may prove useful colleagues and allies in times to come.

Be a good loser

In work, as in sport, there are times when we lose. It might be losing a contract to a rival company, losing a promotion to another employee, or simply failing to complete work to your, or your employer’s standards.

When those instances arrive, it’s important to keep sportsfield etiquette in mind. That means doing a couple of things.

Firstly, accepting the responsibility for your loss. Spouting off about how “office politics,” “favoritism,” “the state of the economy” or anything else is to blame for your failings doesn’t do you any favors. It makes you look like a child, showing you as petulant to your colleagues and superiors.

Oh, and especially don’t blame your colleagues for their mistakes. If there are things that they did do wrong, it’s a frank pep-talk, not a dressing-down that’s in order. Part of being a team means you all take responsibility.

If you lost, it was your fault, and owning this is to your credit.

Secondly, you need to be graceful to the winner. If Bob gets that promotion over you, you make damn sure to shake Bob’s hand. Sending Bob an angry e-mail instantly turns you into the Kanye “Imma let you finish” West of the office, and no-one wants that.

Finally, learn from your mistakes. Great sportsmen identify their weaknesses and work on them. You should do the same.

Be a good winner

On the flipside of this equation, there’s a certain way to behave when we’re the one who gets the promotion, wins the contract or gets praise from our employer.

Firstly, avoid gloating. Yes, you got the raise, yes you got the promotion, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it. It’s not going to make your achievement any better, it’ll just make you look unsportsmanlike to your peers. A reputation like that could have negative repercussions down the line, so don’t start building one now.

In fact, consider whether you even need to celebrate your victory publicly at all. When we’re talking about salary raises, for example, spreading that news around the office can cause resentment, so maybe wait until you get home before cracking open the champagne.

Secondly, you need to acknowledge the people that helped you get the win. Again, we’re in team player territory here. Some things will be all down to you, but in the instances where a killer pass allowed you to score the field goal, you can’t take all the credit.

Finally, you need to show gratitude for your victory when appropriate. Acting like you were entitled to win makes you look smug. Be proud of your work, yes, but also express gratitude for the work of others and fortitude for being in the right place at the right time.

On a related note, “humble bragging” – boasting about something, but trying to hide that boast through complaining or self-deprecation – is a definite no-no. While we might use humble bragging to avoid coming across as smug, it usually has the opposite effect. Being straight up is always a better option.

That’s it for this edition, and indeed, for the world of business etiquette. Next time, we’ll get to grips with the etiquette of being a houseguest, what it means to be in someone else’s home, and why table manners are as important for adults as they are for kids.

See you then!