Playing hardball?

中国日报网 2015-03-06 11:30



Reader question:Playing hardball?

Please explain “hardball” in this sentence: CEOs need to know about hardball negotiating.

My comments:

CEOs, or chief executive officers, are bosses of companies.

As bosses are in general, they should know about hardball negotiating. I mean, all people in positions of power know how to play hardball, if they know anything at all.

Hardball, of course, is another name for the adult male version of the game of baseball.

For women and children, they use a softer ball to throw about. Their game, in consequence, is called softball.

Women and children use the softer ball because they don’t want anyone to get hurt.

As for adult males, apparently getting hurt playing is among the lesser concerns… due to, well, precisely their aggressive nature.

Anyways, from the game of baseball comes the expression of “playing hardball”. It means those who play that way are aggressive and ruthless in pursuing their goals. In other words, they don’t much mind your hurt feelings if that be the case, so long as they get what they want.

Now, in negotiating, playing hardball means exactly that. They’ll just tell you what they want and never give you an inch, thinking their own superior strength and power will help them get their way with you. In our example, for example, a CEO negotiating with an employee for his or her salary for next year will tell them what he, the CEO wants: Meet this sales figure and I’ll give you such and such a raise.

And that is that.

You’ll never be able to make him budge a bit even if he, the CEO, gives you a chance to say what you want.

Even if he even gives you a chance to say exactly what you want, that is.

That’s what he, the typical CEO, adult and male, is about.

In our example, to say that CEOs need to know about hardball negotiating suggests that they don’t already know about it.

Well, that’s really surprising. I thought they all knew.

Perhaps some of the really young ones don’t know all about it. But they’ll know soon enough if they don’t get fired too soon. Bosses being bosses, hardball is the order of the day. That’s simply the culture we’re in.

It’s not the nicest thing to say about our culture, I know. But it’s a fact of life that people keep getting what they want via aggression. It is the culture we’re in today.

That being the fact, I guess young CEOs do need to know how to play hardball. Often times, being the boss means being bossy and, as a tactic, it often does work to their advantage.

Still, don’t forget aggressive behavior is the root to most problems we have relationship-wise. And so keep this in mind also – play hardball at your peril.

Alright, here are media examples:

1. Par for the abysmal course: Lame duck New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea managed only to say it was “unfortunate” that Cheryl Brown and her three kids lived for two years without hot water in one of his developments.

What he did not say, before a high-priced public relations executive abruptly hung up the phone mid-interview, was that NYCHA would pay the Brown family the $19,205 fine ordered by a housing court judge.

While that is clearly his legal and moral obligation, Rhea stuck with a practice of trying to squash any tenant who gets so fed up with living in decrepitude that he or she marches into court.

His hardball tactics, which came to light after the Daily News spotlighted Brown’s mistreatment, are an appalling abuse of legal power.

News reporter Greg Smith reveals that, as of March, NYCHA faced an astonishing 8,051 pending lawsuits by residents, including 2,534 actions in which the authority had yet to schedule repairs.

Smith also reports that NYCHA spends more than $8 million a year on lawyers, who devote endless days in court battling the suits, primarily by adjourning cases month after month after month by making empty promises of repairs that never come.

So, here is a fresh new height of Rhea absurdity. NYCHA subjects tenants to unlivable conditions. Tenants sue. Rather than make repairs, NYCHA fights, spending more on lawyers than on the tradesmen that could make fixes.

Rhea is out the door when a new mayor arrives. Do we have to wait that long?

- Rhea’s abuse of power, November 1, 2013.

2. MINING billionaire Gina Rinehart has dumped part of her stake in Fairfax Media amid an ongoing battle over boardroom seats.

Mrs Rinehart’s mining outfit Hancock Prospecting sold 86.5 million shares worth $50.1 million to an Australian fund manager minutes after the market closed at 1600 AEST on Thursday.

The move reduces her stake in the troubled media company, which owns The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, from 18.7 per cent to about 15 per cent.

However she still remains Fairfax’s biggest shareholder.

Mrs Rinehart is locked in a battle with Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett over securing three board seats.

They have been in a stand-off over Mr Corbett’s desire for Mrs Rinehart to sign the media company’s charter of independence before any offer to join the board was made.

Fairfax has a professional insurance policy, which is designed to offer legal protection to board members.

It includes a clause that requires directors holding more than 15 per cent to agree not to sue the other directors or officers of the company otherwise the policy cover can be rendered void.

In a statement Hancock Prospecting said as Mr Corbett had not raised the 15 per cent limit, Mrs Rinehart's company had decided to offload some shares to reduce her stake in Fairfax.

While the sale was officially about insurance issues, analysts have interpreted it as being an aggressive move against the Fairfax board.

CMC Markets’ chief market strategist Michael McCarthy acknowledged the insurance issue but said he saw it as a fascinating “shot across the bows”.

Apart from Hancock Prospecting, which is chiefly a mining company, nobody else was interested in acquiring Fairfax at the moment, he told AAP.

That meant Thursday evening’s move was bad news for shareholders and good news for Ms Rinehart’s prospects of possibly bidding for the whole company.

“They’ve played hardball with her, she’s been forced to sell down and it’s game on here,” he said.

“It’s quite possible the current board could be the losers out of this.”

- Rinehart reduces stake in Fairfax, August 2, 2012,

3. After Bill Clinton ended their relationship, Monica Lewinsky apparently decided if the president wasn’t in love with her, he was certainly in debt to her. CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports on an emerging profile of the White House intern.

Ken Starr’s report says Lewinsky “felt the president owed her a job.” The report says the president promised Lewinsky his help, and paints a picture of a woman who wouldn't go away and who pestered and threatened until she got it.

“It’s inappropriate the way she reacted” says Naomi Wolf, who writes on women’s issues. “Women are no longer playing by the script of ‘ok, you know, you can use me, I’ll hope for the best but if I don’t get what was promised for me I’ll just be silent.’”

Lewinsky started to make noise after being transferred from her White House job to the Pentagon. She wanted to come back -- very badly. According to Starr, Lewinsky sent the President a “peevish letter” that “took the President to task” for not helping her enough.

There was an ominous part of that letter, according to Starr, who writes that Ms. Lewinsky also obliquely threatened to disclose their relationship. If she was not going to return to work at the White House, she wrote, then she would need to explain to her parents exactly why that wasn’t happening.

“I think it’s not surprising that if they played hardball with her she’s gonna play hardball back,” says Wolf. “It’s indefensible in my view. In my view she should have severed her ties professionally with her lover.”

The day after the threatening letter, Ms. Lewinsky was invited to the Oval Office. It was July 4th, hours before the President went to a fireworks display with his wife.

Starr says Lewinsky remembers their meeting began contentiously, with the President scolding her that “it is illegal to threaten the President of the United States.”

- A Noisy, Determined Monica, September 17, 1998,





About the author:


Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:许晶晶)



















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