The rights and wrongs of “sledging” in cricket have been bought into sharp focus recently with the death of Australian player Philip Hughes and the pledge from Australia to play in a spirit which honours him.
In a thought-provoking article by Jonathan Agnew in the Radio Times last week he suggests the “in your face nastiness” of players using verbal abuse to try and unsettle and intimidate the other side should be stopped, but that there is no evidence so far of things changing. Breaches of codes of conduct recently and players squaring up to each other seem to support this view.
But underlying this is the ongoing debate about whether sledging is just harmless witty banter and fine as long as it doesn’t cross the line or whether it should be tackled. The problem with the former view is in working out and agreeing where that “line” is...
As so often with sport and the business world, there are some real parallels.
It’s not always easy to determine where the “lines” are in the workplace either. Sarcasm is often a characteristic of workplace humour and ”a bit of harmless banter” is often the excuse we hear for some pretty nasty digs and jibes going on within teams. So what is ok and what isn’t?
Certainly when comments become targeted and personal then they become unacceptable. But there is something about some of the greyer areas (such as constant “piss taking” or snide remarks dressed up as a joke) which can be equally as damaging when they are left unchecked.
When these kinds of things become the default behaviour in a team and are allowed to go on for some time, they become normalised and it makes it very hard for someone to put their hand up to say “actually I don’t like this” or “I find it all pretty offensive” The results are often either people feeling marginalised because they do not want to take part in the so-called “banter” or feeling “bullied” because they are the ones on the receiving end of constant sarcasm, put-downs or provocative comments.
Agnew points out that cricket, led by the Australian team, has an opportunity to tackle their inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour, but laments that so far, despite rhetoric to the contrary, nothing seems to have changed with Hughes’ death. The “posturing” and abuse continues. Captain Michael Clarke, he argues, needs to follow through on his words with actions to stop the behaviour, which has crossed the line.
Managers in the business world also have a responsibility to lead the way in terms of setting standards of behaviour through their own words and actions and to step in when banter oversteps the mark.
Partly it is about trusting our own “moral compass” to identify where the boundaries should be. If we have a sense that the banter is on the uncomfortable side of “robust” then we should do something about it.
But we can also involve our teams in that discussion and encourage them to discuss and agree where some of the lines should be.
Let’s see if the business world can do better than cricket.
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The way we behave towards each other in the workplace has a direct impact on individual wellbeing, team performance and organisational results. This belief has underpinned our work at Focal Point for over 20 years and has never been more relevant. We are privileged to work with a huge variety of organisations wanting to get workplace behaviour and culture right - and to tackle the inappropriate behaviour that may get in the way of this. Supported by our fantastic team of facilitators and coaches, we are able to make a real difference to peoples’ lives as well as organisational performance. Having worked in both large businesses at management level and in 2 start ups at director level, I am able to combine hands on experience of growing and managing teams - and the associated challenges in creating the right culture - with over 20 years in learning and development. I hold the Certificate in Training Practice and am a member of CIPD. When I am not supporting clients or developing the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...