It’s us we’re cheering for

By now you would have gathered that I love the Olympics.  Yesterday was why.   It wasn’t just the fact that it was a great day for Team GB, which I could appreciate and celebrate as a patriotic sports lover.   It was the fact that I found my heart thumping, my mouth dry with anticipation, my hands clammy with nervous excitement …. because of shooting!   Shooting?   Are you kidding?   What’s more, I punched the air in celebration in a judo match.  And then I was shouting at the TV and feeling like a proud father… because of canoe slalom!    I even found myself watching some boxing yesterday, a sport I can’t stand.   Every four years I find myself magnetically attracted to sports I wouldn’t otherwise shake a stick at.   You wouldn’t catch me near a horse in a million years but yesterday I watched an hour of dressage!   And what’s more, I loved it.    But from a human behaviour perspective, I also find big sporting events fascinating.    They tell us a lot about patriotism of course, but also a lot about engagement and the need to belong.   Yesterday I picked my daughter up from a summer camp and while I was waiting with the other parents, all everyone was talking about was the gold medals GB had won that afternoon.   People were happy and excited.   What I noticed most was the fact that everyone was referring to “we” rather than “them” or “GB”.    I’m proudly wearing my Team GB t-shirt as I type this and next week I’ll be sitting in the Olympic Stadium myself with a silly hat and giant flag.    So why do we do this?   The fact is, we don’t do it for the team, we do this for ourselves.   When Sir Chris Hoy crosses the line to break the world record and grab a fifth Olympic gold, we don’t cheer for him … we cheer for us.   We don’t celebrate because we’re “pleased for the athlete”, we celebrate because we’re pleased for ourselves.   If a shooter we’ve never heard of wins a gold medal for our team, why are we so happy?   It’s because we feel part of the team and we share a common sense of purpose.   What he’s done has made us feel successful.   For many of us, sport reflects our own values and aspirations in life.  We all have dreams and goals but we also know that life is hard and, as Mick Jagger keeps pointing out, we can’t always get what we want.   I know I’ve written about this before, but I love the way that sport brings us stories that we can all relate to – struggle, the pursuit of excellence, personal commitment, overcoming adversity, dealing with tragedy, the reliance on others, fluctuating self-confidence, the desire to ‘live the dream’.    We also use sport to reflect on our own lives – our health and fitness, the choices we made when we were younger,  the opportunities we wish we’d had, the regrets we have now.    I’m a middle-aged, slightly overweight bloke with a bad back.  When I watch the Olympics, I wish to God I was ten (my daughter’s age).    We see ourselves in those athletes.    When they do well, we feel it.   When they fail, we feel it more.   Not because we’re athletes but because we know what it feels like when things go well, and when they go wrong.     But you know, it doesn’t have to be sport that incites these feelings.   Work can do this too if only we’d build better workplace communities, engender a greater sense of purpose and meaning, tell more human stories of achievement and ‘struggle’, allow people to express themselves, encourage cross-functional education and experience.   And of course, if we were more creative in the way we communicate.   We need to humanise the workplace.    It is possible to create an environment where the bloke in Finance feels motivated and becomes more productive because he’s been inspired by the woman in HR doing a great job?   Where people talk about ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘them’.   Where organisations recognise people as individuals rather than resources.   And where one team has a group hug because another team has been successful.     Sorry for all these Olympic-related posts.  I’ll stop now.

Ten great Olympic inspirations for communicators

Communication is a team sport

What the Olympics can teach us