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Technology & Innovation

Sports analogies at work, or What are you talking about?

How many company pep rallies are filled with sports analogies? Guess what? Lots of us have no idea what you are talking about!

How many times have you been in a meeting when some manager says, “We are at the bottom of the ninth, people, and the goalies need to step in and shoot a birdie before the clock hits the two minute mark or our third baseman will foul out. People, what we need here is a touchdown.”

If  this makes no sense to you, believe me it makes even less sense to me. It also makes no sense to thousands of women and quite a few men in the work place either. But sports analogies are a favorite among so many managers I know.

Of course, I’ve learned to smile and nod knowingly when the president of the company tries to cheer us on with references to line drives or putting a spin on the ball. I have learned that a touchdown is a good thing and we want one.

Still, while benign, these analogies are alienating to a lot of people in the meeting. It is like being Charlie Brown; sitting at his desk while the teacher goes “wha wha wha”.

It matters because lots of people in the audience have a feeling that the speaker isn’t really talking to them. It matters because too many times in my career as an HR manager I’ve seen great women passed over for promotion because their managers don’t “get her”. Truly those very words were the explanation given to me when the two men were promoted over a woman who made more money for the company, worked twice as hard and had a team that would follow her to the end of the earth.

So several years ago, just to make a point, I began to reply to sports analogies with cooking, sewing or fashion analogies. Now, I am only a passable cook, and I can’t sew at all, but even if I didn’t know what I was talking about, I could bet that the prior speaker didn’t know any better.

After a long diatribe ending with “base hit” I now make it my business to say, “I know! This is sewing on the bias, people, and the hem stitch is just about to hit the dart.” Then I smile at everyone, with a who-hasn’t-been-there look. It doesn’t make sense sure, but it gets the point across.

Here are a few suggestions for those of you who are being “coached” to succeed in a game you know nothing about.

“What we are really talking about is wearing Jimmy Choo shoes with a Hermes bag.”

“We are on the verge of having the egg whites curdle”

“It’s like being under the dryer, folks. Get out too soon and the highlights won’t show, get out to late and it’s frizzies for our split ends”“Look, we have to decide, do we want the curtains to swag or drape?”

“What we have here is a kitchen full of souse-chefs when we need an saucier.”

“If you can’t knit, purl.  If you can’t purl, then cast off.”

Do it in good humor. It’s more effective than making a stink about it. Have fun with it. I do.


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