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Yelling works in baseball, not in the office

Fling four-letter words at your boss, keep working despite a condition that might hurt company performance and refuse to give up a project until you think you're done.

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And then celebrate with co-workers at the end of the day.

This is the cubicle-and-tie version of the 9th inning spat between Rays manager Joe Maddon and pitcher Troy Percival in Monday's win against the Red Sox.

Wouldn't you love to have an office as topsy-turvy as that?

In the alternate universe of pro sports, the exchange was called an outburst of heart and stubbornness, closer to an argument between brothers-in-arms than a boss and his underling.

But still, people with bosses everywhere may have had their imaginations tweaked by the mound-top fireworks: If it flies in the ballpark, why would that sort of thing would get me fired in the office park?

And since such passion drove the Rays to a three-game sweep of Boston, why can't I get away with that kind of emotion in the office?

The short answer, says Tampa area career consultant Lisa Jacobson, is that it's unprofessional. And despite the countless baseball analogies a lot of employers throw around (think teamwork, hitting a home run and three strikes and you're out), your office is probably not a diamond-shaped field.

"When an employee is passionate about a position, it has to be something that's planned, not spontaneous," Jacobson said. "I don't care how passionate the employee gets, they need to be professional, they need to count to 10 and take a walk. Otherwise, it's insubordination and a bad example."

But if you're a pitcher, walks are usually not a good thing. And often, neither is passivity.

Amir Erez, a University of Florida business professor who studies workplace behavior, said standing up to a superior is not wholly negative.

"Sometimes, it's considered a courageous behavior," Erez said. "But you're not very likely to get away with it, especially when it becomes somewhat uncivil behavior. When you start cursing and so on, it becomes unacceptable."

And cursing at your boss in front of ESPN and a live audience of 30,000 along with your entire dugout and the competition aside, Erez said public fights in the workplace can lead to diminished performance for the whole staff, according to his latest research.

In his study, Erez exposed a group of subjects to rudeness in a work environment and then asked them to brainstorm ideas for the possible uses for a brick.

The group that witnessed hostility came up with ideas for the brick like "hit someone over the head," or "break a window," compared to more benign uses generated from a control group.

So when your job isn't to retire guys wielding bats by hurling objects at them approaching 100 mph, rising anger and annoyance should be directed carefully, or else the people around you could start catching your bad vibes.

Maybe even if you're a star athlete.

"In a competitive situation, which baseball clearly is, rudeness has less of an effect," Erez said. "But you still need to cooperate."

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

Yelling works in baseball, not in the office 07/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 2:23pm]
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