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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Stella Chandler and I founded Focal Point on a shared belief that a training course run in isolation doesn't work. We passionately believe there must be support both before and after the training or coaching session itself for it to make a difference. When I am not facilitating sessions with clients or looking at ways to grow the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...