It’s football season, which also means it’s “Rachel Belle doesn’t know anything about football so let’s try and teach her” season. But this football season, I’m going to help you out. Maybe you’re like me and know nothing about sports and maybe you really don’t care. But maybe you also realize it would be useful to help you get ahead at work.
Seahawks sideline reporter and sports broadcaster Jen Mueller has a new book called Game Time. Learn to Talk Sports in 5 minutes a Day for Business. Jen is convinced that talking sports is the best way to create and maintain relationships with crucial people at work. Here’s how it all started:
“Gals from KPMG, here in Seattle, reached out to me about four years ago and they asked for help. The men were taking potential clients to sporting events. The women didn’t realize it at the time, but those potential clients became clients. Their male counterparts ending up having larger client bases, they made more money, they were seen as more successful. These women had the same amount of years in the business, they had the same schooling. But what they didn’t have was that relationship building piece at sporting events.”
So she came up with a guide to help people learn just enough about sports to get in with their boss and colleagues. Here’s the first thing she wants you to do:
“I just want you to start reading headlines. You don’t need to know stats, rules, trades, salaries because the person who loves sports, the person you’re trying to have the relationship with, will do all the talking for you. You just have to open that door just a little crack and say, ‘Hey! What did you think about Felix Hernandez yesterday?’ And I promise you, anyone who watched Felix Hernandez will will rattle off the stats, the score and what that game meant. You walk away knowing you made that person’s day because they got a chance to talk about something other than work. You took an interest in them and when they need an escape from their day, they’re coming back to you.”
She says you can beef up on sports in just five minutes every day. Read the headlines, read the ticker on Sports Center when you’re sitting at a bar and have one sports related conversation every day. She also reminded me that the fact that I’ve been to a couple games is enough to start a conversation.
“You actually have sports knowledge that you don’t realize that you have because you have attended games. So if anybody says, ‘Oh hey, what do you think about the Mariners?’ You go, ‘You know what, I haven’t been following the scores but I love baseball at Safeco Field! They’ve got the best food in The Pen and I love drinking the beer and and, oh my gosh, you cannot beat that place on a summer afternoon.’ You have sports knowledge at your fingertips!”
Jen says she has helped a lot of men who are too embarrassed to ask their male friends about the rules and strategy of football. But she also helps a lot of women.
“We talk about Lean In and the whole women needing to have higher power positions in the corporate setting. One of things holding them back is the way that they network with men. I’m not the only one to have said this. Sports is a way you network with men. Half of all Americans identify as being sports fans. You are trying to get face time with key influencers and decision makers. There is a pretty good chance that your key influencers and decision makers are sports fans.”
Jen makes a lot of great points, but I couldn’t help but feel like ‘Why do I need to become interested in something I’m not interested in, when I have plenty of other interests and things to talk about. Why must I conform to this conversation starter?’
“If you’ve got 50% of all Americans who identify as sports fans, you are not going to change that. You are not going to take sports metaphors out of business, you are not going to get them to stop talking about sports at work. It is in your best interest to join in just so you are part of the conversation. You don’t have to become the biggest fan, but there are ways to draw a circle, and a bulls eye, around what you want to talk about and bring the conversation back around to that. I keep my fingers crossed that the people you are talking to recognize this and then ask you about your interests.”