(Post by Andrew Thorp)
I heard a fascinating interview with Lord Coe this week where he recounted a remarkable conversation he had on the Tube recently. Travelling to Bank Station, the Olympic boss was approached by a middle-aged man asking for his autograph.
The man was wearing the uniform of a Games volunteer and there followed an awkward ping-pong style conversation – “Thank you for what you’re doing for the Games” (Coe). “No, no, thank YOU for giving us the opportunity” (volunteer).
After a bit more mutual appreciation, the man stopped the peer in his tracks. “You don’t understand, for me the Games has been a form of closure.” It turns out the man is Andrew Hartle (right), a consultant anaesthetist who volunteered to help out as medical back-up in the boxing event. But more significantly, he was on A&E duty on 7/7, the day after the announcement that London had won the Games and the moment that London was rocked by terrorist bombings. For years, the Olympics and that terrible atrocity were inextricably linked in his mind. He agonised over whether or not to volunteer for the Games, but ultimately it turned out well; it enabled him to move on from that day and embrace the Olympics as something positive.
Speaking afterwards to the BBC, Lord Coe described the conversation as ‘seismic’ and was noticeably affected by the encounter. But to me it underlines the fact that behind every person, there’s a deeper story. So often we try to get our own way (eg sell to a prospect) or assess the value of a new contact (when networking), but never get beyond what’s on the surface. That’s why asking questions, building trust and giving people space to express themselves is so important – when accompanied by great listening skills too of course!