Buzzwords: Hardball

To be uncompromising in your methods or dealings, especially in business of politics

Back Article Sep 1, 2016 By Robin Epley

Hard·ball (härd-bôl), n

There is a ton of sports jargon that has worked its way from the playing field to the boardroom. The modern business lexicon is laden with it, perhaps reflecting the competitive nature with which we do business. Have you ever had to explain to someone that a given task wasn’t in your swim lane, or thought a proposal was a slam dunk only to get blindsided by the competition? We asked readers which sports-related business jargon bugged them the most and they answered back: Apparently “hardball” makes the majority of you cringe.

The Buzz:

So what is “hardball” exactly? The term originated from baseball, where a small, hard ball is used to deliver a hard pitch. In contrast to softball, which is an easier pitch and most often played by children, hardball is a game reserved for the pros. In business or negotiation, it means to take a hard line and get aggressive.

One of our reader’s attempts at hardball resulted in her leaving a job after asking her employer to work around her school schedule. When the boss refused to even look at her request, the employee placed her resignation on his desk. Another reader said a dentist’s office once tried to get her to change her mediocre Yelp review before they would send over X-rays — that scenario almost devolved into litigation.

The lesson: Don’t play hardball unless you mean it.

The Word:

What should you do when someone takes a hard line in negotiations? Don’t get hard in return, says Sacramento-based Wyndow CEO Oleg Kaganovich. “It’s like tai chi,” he says. If you’re hard back, “it’s unlikely you’re going to come to any solution. It’s to your advantage to be soft.” Culturally, Kaganovich says, in other countries, “Without overgeneralizing, there can be a view that ‘both sides can’t win.’ Whereas in the States and in the Western world, it’s important if both sides feel they’ve won.”

Kaganovich says the only time he plays hardball is when he’s fighting for his team of employees. “Every dollar I spend is to make sure they’re supported and happy and incented,” he says. And when he’s negotiating for insurance policies, “I absolutely play hardball, because I want the best deal possible for my team.”

So while the word — and the practice — might make you roll your eyes, playing hardball can be useful and even necessary when the stakes are high. But please, use sparingly both verbally and in action.