We were losing 2 to 1 when Drew started spouting instructions.
“Move to the left when I serve. Get up to the net faster. You should have hit a short shot.”
The game is Pickleball, a paddle-sport played over a tennis-type net on a badminton-sized court. I’ve written about it before as a lot of leadership lessons can be learned here.
“How long have you been playing?”, I asked him. “About three weeks,” he responded.
Wow. Three weeks and he’s giving instructions? Even though I’ve been playing for a couple of years, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he knows something I don’t.
Fast forward three months later, I find myself as his partner on a court again. He’s still barking instructions.
The game begins and I miss a shot.
“From now on he commands, when the ball goes to the left of the line, it’s mine, don’t hit my forehand shots.”
As a student of the game, I understand he’s right. Typically, whoever has the forehand shot goes for the ball, but it’s not a rule etched in stone.
Next shot, we’re tied again, but this time it’s Drew who’s making mistakes. Missing serves, slamming balls into the net and giving up multiple points. I’m making my shots.
The ball comes to me at the left of the line, which he told me was his ball. Yet, I’m right there and he’s a few steps behind, so knowing I can put the shot away, I go for it but so does he. That’s when the two of us collide and we both miss the ball.
“I told you, he yells at me, anything to the left of the line is mine.”
I know I say, “But sometimes the person who can get it should go for it.”
Completely agitated he begins lecturing me on how to play the game to which I respond, “Let’s just play.” That’s when he says, “Okay honey, whatever you say.”
That did it.
“What did you say?” I ask him.
“What did I say?” he retorts.
“You called me honey. My name is not honey. It’s Karen and don’t you ever call me that again.”
“What’s your problem?” he scolds.
“I’ll tell you what my problem is,” I replied. “I am not your honey. And you are an arrogant, condescending demeaning know-it-all.”
That’s when he said, “I’m done” and stormed off the court.
As I pondered this days later, I realized he had no idea why the word honey when used in this context was offensive. If he had said, “Great shot honey” or “You look terrific honey”, I would be more likely to interpret it as a term of endearment. However, calling someone honey while correcting and chastising them is demeaning and disrespectful.
If you think I’m being overly sensitive, consider this.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Civil Rights says the use of words honey, dear and sweetheart in the workplace may constitute sexual harassment or discrimination. Even if you don’t intend it that way, the department says, “You should be aware that such expressions are inappropriate.”
It is important that people recognize these words make others, especially women, feel uncomfortable. A survey by the United Kingdom market research site One Poll found that almost three quarters of women think pet names in the office are unacceptable. Even though a pickleball court is not an office, I believe the same rules should apply.
Some of you may be wondering, what’s the big deal? The big deal is it’s never appropriate to minimize how someone else feels. If you have offended someone, rather than blame them for how they feel, try to understand why they were offended. What’s endearing to one person may be offensive to another.
If we don’t know each other well enough to use mutually acceptable terms of endearment, then refrain from calling someone babe, honey, sweetheart, love or darling.
Even though these terms are often used without any malevolent intent, if you’re offended, it’s up to you to ask the person to stop referring to you that way and explain why.
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