All the passengers in the dining room suddenly looked up from their dinners, put down their glasses of wine and waited for an explanation.
“It seems there’s an important soccer match happening right now between Spain and Italy, and our Italian ship captain is doing his best to get a television signal. If we stay in our current location all guests should be able to watch the match on the TV’s in their room,” the cruise director explained.
The dining room erupted with laughter, cheers and applause.
This is an actual event that occurred just last week toward the end of my family vacation. We were just off the coast of Greece, preparing to drop anchor near Santorini. The ship was full of passengers from all over the world. I lost track of the number of languages I heard during my week on board, but there was no denying that news of the soccer match (although many on board would call it football) crossed all the language and cultural barriers.
I am often asked, “Why sports? Why are you so concerned with teaching people to talk about sports and become sports fans?” And the simple answer is this. It works.
As you saw in the example above it works when you’re trying to find common ground with multiple nationalities on a cruise ship. But it also works when you’re trying to strike up a conversation with your coworkers and it works when you’re trying to further relationships with clients.
I can think of more than a dozen reasons sports topics, conversations and fandom is a valuable assent in relationships – both business and personal. Here are the three that were most evident in the example from the cruise.
- Sporting events cross cultural differences. Everyone on that ship came from a different background and different understanding of the world. None of those differences mattered when it came to watching the match, the soccer fans on board just wanted to watch. At work, your colleagues and coworkers each come from a different background and life experiences. Sports can be a great way to find middle ground and find a common interest.
- Sporting events speak for themselves. Upon turning on the soccer match in my room I discovered the broadcast was in Italian but it didn’t matter because I could follow the action by simply watching the match. You don’t need to know sports jargon or any other language to be able to identify when the ball goes in the net for a score. This is the case for many sporting events. You’ll also run into situations where you don’t have the option of hearing the broadcast, like at a restaurant or bar, where a game might be shown on TV but the broadcast volume is not turned up.
- Young, old and everyone in between can participate. There are no age requirements or restrictions when it comes to being a sports fan. On the ship there were teenage children who were just as excited as several retired persons who were clamoring to watch the game. There are many generational differences that can impact productivity and success in a workplace, finding common ground through sports an provide a good starting point for understanding difference points of view, and working forward.
If you’re already a sports fan, seek out ways you can use your fandom and knowledge to build better relationships this week. For ideas on how this might come into play, read my weekly Conversation Starters blog and join my newsletter.
If you’re not a sports fan, consider a sport, player or event that interests you, or identify a person you work with who is interested in a particular sport, player or sporting event. Spend a couple minutes thinking about how having that sport, player or sporting event as common ground would help your relationship. Check out my blogs on Workplace Communication Tips for specific ideas and then take a peak at the Conversation Starters blog.
Jen Mueller, America’s Expert Talker, helps business professionals understand the sports conversations that happen every day at work. She’s also helping them climb the corporate ladder through her program “What Do I Say?” Jen’s practical approach helps professionals join the conversations, sound intelligent, and understand how their communication skills can make ’em or break ’em in business. Her conversation strategy comes from her 12 years of experience as a sports broadcaster. Jen is available to speak for keynotes, presentations and workshops. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and read more at http://talksportytome.com