A post from our editor who recently went to a Super Bowl Party
Another Super Bowl has been and gone. Philadelphia is cleaning up from its celebratory chaos (fly, Eagles, fly!), chatter about all the cool commercials is dying down, and football fans all over the nation are turning to other interests (like the Olympics!). And I have a confession to make.
I don’t know much about, nor do I care much about, football.
Yes, I’ve been editing sports related articles for Eric for years, now, and I really like my job. One of the great things about being an editor is I get to learn things I might not otherwise get to pay attention to. Seeing football, or any of the other sports I don’t follow, through Eric’s eyes is a lot of fun. But the fact remains that when I find myself watching a game with friends or family, I basically don’t know what’s going on.
I’m not the only one. Lots of people don’t know about, or follow, sports. And on Super Bowl Sunday, many of us found ourselves at Super Bowl parties anyway. Perhaps no other single event brings so many knowledgeable and passionate people together with other people who know nothing about the subject at hand.
Contact between the knowledgeable and the knowledge-less is hardly unusual, though. Maybe it’s a training event. Maybe it’s a meeting with a potential client or a potential investor. Maybe it’s a call to a different department or a different business about some shared project. Maybe it’s an office party where everybody is the same kind of self-described geek but you.
Whatever the reason, either you are trying to engage with people who don’t know (and maybe don’t care) what you’re talking about, or you are trying to make sense of, and maybe enjoy or make important decisions about some topic that everybody understands but you.
Let’s see how much “Super Bowl party etiquette” might apply to other contexts:
For the Fans at the Party
If you find yourself at a Super Bowl party as a super-fan, go ahead and enjoy the game, but make sure your non-fan friends have a good time, too. Have non-football-related activities available (including normal, non-sports conversation) and look for ways to get your friends involved in the game. For example, you could place friendly wagers on whether anyone does a touchdown dance, or some other aspect that a person doesn’t have to know anything about football to notice. You can also explain the basics of the game, but don’t slide over into show-off mode. If someone seems lost or out of place, check in with them.
Basically, pay attention to how the party seems from the perspective of the non-fans. Don’t just make them feel welcome, make sure they are welcome. Take their needs and interests seriously.
If instead of a Super Bowl party you are pitching an idea at a meeting of investors, offering alternative games might not be an option, but you still have to look at the event from the other’s viewpoint. You might think your new business venture is six different types of fascinating and the best thing since sliced bread, but your prospective investors (or trainees, or those folks from the IT department) don’t see it your way. Your job is to help them see it, and to do so without acting like you’re the smartest person in the room. You still have to remember that these people have their own interests and expertise and that their perspective is just as important as yours.
For the Non-Fans at the Party
If you find yourself at a Super Bowl party, but you’re not sure what a quarterback is actually a quarter of, your challenge is not just to enjoy yourself, but also to be a gracious party-goer. Don’t act like your immunity to sports addiction makes you superior. Conversely, don’t act like the fans owe you explanations of everything—they came to watch football, not teach it. If you really can’t get into the game at all, watch the fans (they’re usually pretty amusing) and the commercials, but football’s basics are actually pretty easy to follow. Where the teams are on the field and which direction they’re moving, plus the score itself, is enough to give you the outlines of the plot.
The point to remember is that this is a football party, and even if football isn’t usually your thing, you can keep an open mind and enjoy it this once.
If you’re in some kind of professional setting, rather than a football party, you probably won’t be tempted to roll your eyes, act superior, or just check out. But you might make the mistake of thinking that a business plan or a training program is unimportant just because it doesn’t grab you personally. Take your cue from the fans on this one; if someone else is excited or concerned or fascinated and you’re not, maybe they’re seeing something you don’t. Let them show you what it is.
In almost any situation, there are going to be some people who know a lot and are very interested, and other people who are less interested and less knowledgeable. No matter which category you find yourself in, the key is to consider how things look from the other perspective.
Be real, be kind to others, and ask them questions. It’s not all about you.
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