Sports: The Language of Business

Sports metaphors are common in business, but are they such a good idea?

Baseball and glove

Some say no, noting that employees may have no idea what their bosses or colleagues mean when they utter sports phrases in the workplace. To make matters even more perplexing, sports metaphors are often misused or mixed when making business points. Who hasn't chuckled to themselves when a co-worker or boss says something like, "Step up to the plate and get a touchdown."

In addition to being misused, male managers are often advised to refrain from using sports terms to discuss business because they could seem exclusionary towards women. But never assume women don't follow sports. The next time you attend a sporting event, say baseball or football, look around.

A Gallup poll indicated that 51% of women consider themselves sports fans.  That suggests that more than 60 million women in the United States are sports fans. The NFL says 45% of its fans are women.

So if you know your colleagues and employees are sports fans, it can help to explain certain concepts using language they understand. Sports and business often seem compatible since they both involve teamwork, rules and competition.

However, business people should avoid sports metaphors when speaking with overseas customers, partners and colleagues. In today's diverse business world, many popular phrases do not translate well and may do more harm than good.

Take a look at some examples of common sports metaphors you may have heard around the office:

When it comes to using sports metaphors in the workplace, there's no easy answer as to whether it's appropriate or not.  Choose your words carefully and you might hit a home run. But if you use the wrong sports maxim or deliver it to the wrong audience, you can strike out.

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