How to Navigate Sports Outings When You Don't Follow Sports

How to Advance Your Career

NFL Football Game

If you want to take your career to the next level, you've got to take full advantage of opportunities to rub elbows with senior executives and influential clients. Often, those opportunities come in the form of company outings at professional sporting events.

If you're a sports nut, that's great. If you're not, however, you might feel disadvantaged, according to The Muse contributor Jennifer Winter.

"I like sports. I played a few in high school, and I still do my share of Super Bowl, March Madness and Final Four office pools, but I'm certainly no athletic expert. And when the office chatter starts trending on trading activity -- and I'm not talking stocks -- I tend to zone out a bit," Winter says. "At some offices, this wouldn't be much of an issue. But at my office, during any given sports season, we get tickets to the games. Games at which my clients are present. Games at which I am expected to represent my firm … The first time I had to attend one of these events, I sort of freaked out. Yes, I 'get' sports, but I have absolutely no idea whether Jeremy Lin's streak is just a fad or what LeBron eats for breakfast every morning."

If you can relate, you need a strategy for approaching sporting events in a way that helps instead of hurts your career. And according to Winter, that approach should steer clear of charades.

"The absolute worst thing you can do at a sporting event is try to pretend you know what you're talking about when you don't. People who dig sports tend to really, really be into them, which means they'll call your bluff before your first bite of hot dog," she continues. "Am I really telling you to admit you don't know something? Yes, and here's why: Everyone likes to be the expert. So as long as you can ask intelligent questions, your seat-mate will likely be thrilled to explain the complexities of the game, play or bogus call by the ref. By showing a true interest and genuinely trying to understand some aspect of what's unfolding in front of you, you'll not only engage your clients in the conversation, but they'll appreciate your respect for the game (not to mention love the fact that they get to look like stars themselves)."

The key phrase here is "genuinely trying to understand." If you don't follow sports, or don't even like them, that's OK. But you can't check out; if you want to impress the executives and clients who can help your career, you've got to engage them with genuine interest and curiosity.

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