March Madness is upon us — whether that’s good or bad depends on your feelings about college basketball, your workplace’s culture around sports, and your need to get stuff done between now and the end of the month. Ideally, you and your coworkers would all be able to enjoy the bonding potential of debating the merits of your favorite teams, without turning the office into a locker room or annoying your colleagues who would choose unpaid overtime over courtside seats.
It’s possible to make it work without being that party-pooper who reminds everyone that they’re not there to talk about the game.
Do not, for example:
1. Watch the game at work.
Seem obvious? Think again. While I was researching this post, a few folks spoke about watching games at work. (Mostly World Cup, not basketball, although the sample size wasn’t large enough to make any sweeping claims about soccer fans’ passion for watching at the office.) One said that “productivity increased because of it. Of course that had to be stopped by some exec, because it also looked like fun.”
At the risk of sounding like said exec, it’s hard to imagine how this could be the case. If you take time out of the day to watch the game, you’re not available for meetings or non-sports-related collaboration. Perhaps just as bad, you look like you’re goofing off – that’s not good for your reputation around the office, even if you’re able to split your attention between the game and your work. (And science says you probably aren’t.)
2. Pay attention to basketball, instead of to the actual people in the room.
“I worked somewhere where the person actually interviewed a candidate while watching a [#@%!] game,” says Lisa, a PR professional. “Rudest thing ever.”
There’s no better way to express your disdain for your coworkers than ignoring them while focusing on something else, whether it’s basketball or politics or knitting or organizing your inbox. Even if you observe Rule No. 1 and don’t watch basketball at work, you should make an effort not to let your mind wander back to the game while you’re talking to coworkers. Be here now, even if you’d rather be at the game.
3. Trash-talk your colleagues.
It’s good to have friends at work, but work friends aren’t the same as regular friends, especially when you’re in the office. It’s not the time to break out the playground putdowns when you’re bantering with your colleagues. Don’t say anything to your coworkers you wouldn’t say in front of the CEO.
4. Let your passion trump professionalism.
People lose it over sports in part because the games are so much more exciting than real life. Fever Pitch author Nick Hornby once exhorted non-sports fans to “be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”
That delirium, alas, does not mix well with professional life.
“We once had an event at Greenwich Polo, which was about an hour away from the office and not convenient to reach if you didn’t have a car,” says Susan, a writer. “The insane marketing director got p****d off at his assistant and fired her on the spot and told her he didn’t care if she never got back to the city.”
OK, probably polo didn’t have much to do with that marketing director’s behavior. But the point is, you wouldn’t be shocked if it did, because everyone has seen a previously stoic acquaintance reduced to tears over a bunch of grown men missing a goal or a throw or a run. People get excited about the fate of their favorite team. At work, however, you need to remain on an even keel. Give yourself a time out if you need it, instead of making your boss do it.
5. Be too harsh to coworkers who love something you don’t care about.
This one’s for the non-basketball fans: give your coworkers a break. At the end of the day, we’re not robots, and productivity isn’t as simple as gluing people to their chairs and forcing them to type like a room full of monkeys. As long as your colleagues aren’t calling in sick to stay home and watch basketball for the next two weeks, cut them some slack.
Eventually, your favorite event – whether it’s the Final Four or the Oscars or the Westminster Dog Show – will come up on the calendar, and when it does, you’ll want to be working with people who aren’t still mad at you for making fun of their favorite thing.
This post was updated from an earlier version previously published on PayScale.
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