Nine Things I Learned About Corporate America from Playing Baseball

Bottom of the 2nd … Know the Unwritten Rules

Image by — Amy Stroth

I’m not entirely sure how they’re passed on or at what age I started inheriting them, but somehow I learned a slew of jargon on the baseball diamond. Worm-burner, barnstormer, atom ball, chin music, duck fart, Texas leaguer … you name it — a whole host of terms simply describing the action of the baseball. In addition to absorbing the lingo, I also learned the official and unofficial rules of the game.

Baseball is not unique in having its own jargon … 86 means something is out of stock in the restaurant business, 5150 is not only a Van Halen album but also police code for a “crazy” person on the loose, and RIF is non-compassionate corporate-speak for Reduction-In-Force. Acronyms and insider languages are hard enough to learn on their own, but like baseball every office complicates the learning curve by adding its own set of rules not discussed in new-hire orientation. Often times it is imperative to an employee’s career they know the rarely discussed, but always followed unofficial rules.

Watching baseball it’s easy to pick up on the official rules (three strikes you’re out, etc.). However, most casual fans don’t notice the unofficial rules being followed (or enforced). They blend in with the game. For example, when a batter fouls the ball into the umpire — the catcher will call time to visit the pitcher at the mound and give the umpire a moment to catch his/her breath and/or shake it off. Or if a batter does too much showboating at the plate, they’re likely to get plunked by a pitch during one of their next at bats.

In a corporate environment employees are usually following an official rule book of sorts (dress code, alcohol policy, lunch breaks, etc.). Where baseball’s unwritten rules mostly stem from tradition — much of the corporate world’s subtle and unspoken rules are dictated by the company’s culture. Maybe certain departments require you to follow a certain chain of command when asking questions because they have a hierarchal culture. Maybe employees are expected to be at their desks between 8:30 a.m. — 5:00 p.m. because they have a culture based on perceived productivity (there are all sorts of things wrong with this type of business culture that we can discuss some other day). Or maybe you’re not supposed to make eye contact with the CEO, because he/she has developed a culture based on his/her own psychopathic narcissism.

Whatever those quirky, subtle unwritten rules are — it’s expected you learn them quickly otherwise the keepers of the office culture will quickly apply a non-team-player label on you and make your workdays difficult … and if you work with Midwesterners, it’s likely no one will tell you have been assigned a negative label and you’ll be left wondering why your career growth has mysteriously stalled. In my opinion, the latter is worse than having a fastball thrown at your head … which you’re not supposed to rub if it hits you, BTW.

Up next, Top of the 3rd … Playing Out of Position
If you missed the 1st inning: Top of the 1st … Expect Failure