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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

HR is Professional Wrestling

“If you smell what the Rock is cooking…” – Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson

For the first time in at least fifteen years, I LOVE professional wrestling. I mean, for the first time in years, I have a deep seeded PASSION for professional wrestling. I am not a TV person, but I cannot wait for Wednesday nights to watch All Elite Wrestling’s (AEW) Dynamite broadcast.

Now, hear me out…

I’ve had an on again off again love of wrestling since I was a little Hulkamaniac saying my prayers and taking my vitamins, brother! The 1980s was where the love was born! Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Andre the Giant… these men were titans, heroes, villains, and everything in between. They captured my imagination, and helped me master the elbow drop so I could perform it on my little brothers.

Then, I sorta fell out of it for whatever reason in the early 90s. Call it whatever you want, but I just got into other things. Then… the Monday Night Wars started! A battle between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, known now as WWE) for wrestling supremacy. Competition made everything amazing! Eventually, this ushered in what became known as WWE’s “Attitude Era.” The best time in wrestling history. I worshiped the Rock, Mick Foley, the Undertaker, D-Generation X, and of course, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Legends, all of them.

It is because of the Attitude Era that me, my brothers, and our friends had the cops called on us while we were doing backyard wrestling at my mom’s house. The neighbors thought it was a gang fight. C’est la vie!

WWE beat everyone – eventually bought WCW, as well as other competition, and the product got, in wrestling terms, stale. Actually, worse than stale. It’s been unwatchable for me, and many others, with a few exceptions, like the “Yes Movement” almost a decade ago – the rise of the “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson!

And that leads me to now. AEW, which was founded two years ago to be direct competition with WWE, is doing everything right, in terms of promotion, marketing, booking, and all the things that make professional wrestling amazing. Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, the Young Bucks, Bryan Danielson (who jumped ship), the return of CM Punk, and SO many other amazing talented wrestlers helped me rediscover that impressionable boy and excited teenager inside me. Wrestling, once again, brings me joy!

And I like to think about things that bring me joy! Weirdly, I make connections to seemingly unconnectable things.

Jack Hunter, a political commentator and giant wrestling fanatic, calls “all politics professional wrestling.” In his opinion, it’s all a show – a “work,” meaning a deception or a fraud, a plot meant to deceive or manipulate an audience in order to elicit a desired response. He even goes so far as to say “Everything is wrestling.”

Now whether you buy that or not, I was inspired by that comment from him. It made me wonder in what ways is HR like professional wrestling? Well… in my experience, here’s some examples based on the lingo of the business!

Baby face – A wrestler who is the good guy, a hero booked to be cheered by fans. Often called a “face.”

This is what every HR professional strives to be – at least the good ones. We want respect, adoration, a seat at the table! However, this is not always in our control! When Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson first made his wrestling debut, he was booked as a “face.” However, the fans hated it! They booed him when he was supposed to be cheered. He owned it, though, and became an amazing “heel” – one of the best in wrestling history. (More on heel in a minute). HR, own your lot in life. Don’t worry about being the face. Just do what needs to be done, do the right thing to the bst of your capabilities, and don’t worry about the rest. It’s not in your control!

Bump – To fall on the mat or ground. To “take a bump” in pro wrestling means to get hit and get taken down.

In HR we take bumps what seems like daily! Like a GREAT wrestling match, there are ebbs and flows. There’s a beautiful art to it – a dance that tells a great story! In HR, there may be times where we get wins, only to be followed by a chair shot to the skull! “What do you mean she came to work sick!? Has she been watching the news the past year and a half?!?!” Sigh, time to put all our other priorities on hold to do the proper contact tracing, etc. The good thing about taking bumps? They prepare you for the world, and keep you sharp and on edge. Take 7 bumps means you get up 8 times… unless the last bump got you pinned. Don’t get pinned! Kick out! Get up!

Dark match – A non-televised match at a televised show. A dark match before the show is often used to test new talent or warm up the crowd.

Oh, this is too perfect! How much work is done BEHIND the scenes that few see? Processing payroll, negotiations with vendors, confidential FMLA/ADA talks… so many others. Employees don’t see these aspects, but see the results! A paycheck deposited (or not due to them changing bank info in the middle of a payroll process – that’s a no no!), higher premiums that could have been much higher, or an employee who “gets away with not coming to work.” All these thankless jobs eventually help everyone, in theory, get promoted to the “televised matches.” Only caution is, remember it’s hotter under bright lights…”

Heel – A wrestler who is villainous, who is booked to be booed by fans.

HR gets a lot of “heat” (negative reactions, such as booing, from fans). “HR told me to do it!” That phrase irks me like none other! It is a MASSIVE cop out when supposed leaders say “HR said…” This false logic completely absolves them of their responsibility and makes the profession look like the heel! In the words of Dean Ambrose, “Noooooope!!!” HR advises your options. You chose. OWN YOUR CHOICES, MANAGERS. Sorry… I was about to venture into heel territory there for a moment… back on track! 😊

Jobber – A wrestler who routinely loses in order to build the credibility of other wrestlers.

This is one of my favorite wrestling terms! HR unfortunately can be a jobber – see heel. However, unlike professional wrestling, which is scripted, the real world is not! Do not let others “job” you. Stand up for yourself, professionally and appropriately. Challenge others when they’re wrong. If you’re going to “take heat,” it may as well be on your terms, right? Jobbers get pushed around for the benefit of others. That can only happen if YOU allow it to happen.

Kayfabe – The presentation of professional wrestling as being entirely legitimate or unscripted.

Prior to the mid-1980s, this was universally maintained across all wrestling territories and promotions. Now-a-days of course, most people above seven years old understand that the Undertaker is not truly from Death Valley and doesn’t “hate” his brother Kane. However, “breaking kayfabe” is essentially, “breaking character,” or breaking the act. It’d be as if Iron Man suddenly began acting like Robert Downey Jr. and not Tony Stark.

Does HR have kayfabe? Does the profession have a wall it puts up to maintain an image that isn’t true? I’m not sure! I think all professionals put up walls of some kind. I can speak only from first hand experience, but there are times I do not want to act positive and happy. I want to scream and bitch and just tell someone off. However, I work hard to “maintain kayfabe” if for no other reason to maintain what I feel is leadership.

Mark – A wrestling fan who enthusiastically believes or behaves as though they believe professional wrestling is not staged, or loses sight of the staged nature of the business while supporting their favorite wrestlers.

This term has its origins in the “carnival” beginnings of wrestling. A “mark” was someone that could be easily taken advantage of and conned. Personally, I love “marking out,” meaning totally getting into the show and becoming completely enthralled! It’s such an energy rush and dopamine shot. This is the same feeling I get when I totally get into a project at work, go to a conference to network, or begin learning new HR trends and analytics. I mark out at HR! This is such a great release, which helps overcome the challenging times!

Pop – A cheer or positive reaction from the crowd.

Pops can be great right! Cheers and adoration are wonderful things. We want recognition. It’s human nature. However, when we want a “pop” from others, we give them power over us? When we look to others to make us feel some sort of way, that diminishes our own internal worth over the long haul. It is much better to leave how you feel to yourself – that way, no one has power over your emotions, reactions, and most importantly, responses. Pops from outside sources fuel the ego, which is your enemy. Pops from inside fuel your soul, which is your friend.

Stable – A team of three or more wrestlers, who generally share common motives, allies and adversaries within a storyline (or through multiple storylines) and are often presented as having the same or very similar gimmicks.

The greatest stable of all time is the #HRCommunity. I have worked in other professional industries, and not one of them holds a candle to the love, friendship, and interconnectedness that the HR Community holds for one another. Find others in our profession. Connect with them. Form friendships. HR is hard. Being alone is HR is harder and completely avoidable and unnecessary! Join a local HR professional chapter/association. Get on Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with others. Like the nWo of the late WCW era, anyone can join the HR Community!

Work – Anything planned to happen. Part of the script.

It’s a lie that wrestling is “fake.” You take a bump off a six-foot ladder and tell me it’s fake. No, wrestling is “scripted.” It’s a show. It’s an art form that is part athleticism, part choreography. So, when someone says “it’s a work” it’s part of the act. I think what leads to the downfall of many potentially great HR professionals is a lack of foresight, a lack of strategic “working.” Many times, professionals make moves that don’t make sense or are not strategic, thus making a “shoot” (when a wrestler or personality deliberately goes off-script, either by making candid comments or remarks during an interview, breaking kayfabe, or legitimately attacking an opponent). Don’t shoot! Incorporate a “work” into your style – be strategic, think ahead, maintain your composure. Remember that all moves are interconnected, so we need to maintain the flow, the dance.

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