It was a weekend in September 2016, a Saturday to be specific. I was spending the weekend in Copenhagen at the end of a work trip to Amsterdam. I’d been on a morning walking tour and was starving so having lunch on Paper Island made perfect sense. Paper Island is centrally located and is a great spot for street food in addition to art and showrooms.
I wandered through the food stalls and finally decided to eat something local- a herring sandwich. Food – check, indoor seating – no luck! I ended up going outdoors to find a seat, and ended up sitting across from three gentlemen. I said hello and asked for permission to share their space.
Now, I personally don’t like to start out a conversation by directly asking ‘what do you do’ when I meet people on the road. Why? Well, sometimes the answer to the question might create an initial impression that may or may not be true. Plus, people are so much more than what they do. However, I find that if people love what they do, it’ll always come up in the conversation anyway, so let it be their choice or let is flow naturally. I’ll typically ask about their trip so far, or where they’ve arrived from or something of the sort.
Turns out these gentlemen arrived from Hong Kong and were in town for a convention. Two middle-aged men and another in his twenties. The younger guy came along with his dad to enjoy the ride. Can’t blame him! We got to chatting a bit more and at some point, I mentioned I tagged on the weekend trip at the end of a work trip and so they asked what I did for a living. In return, I asked about what they did. His response was ‘ I’m a negotiator.’ Now, those close to me will tell you that I ask a lot of questions and enjoy getting into details, I do. I like to get to the bottom of what makes people tick.
Of course, I fired off a few questions trying to make sense of his answer, trying to understand what in the world they could negotiate for everyday. Instead of responding, the older gentleman made me guess what he negotiated for: I guessed everything from contracts, to government to merchandise. His simple response after my failed attempts was ‘life.’
Wait, what? These gentlemen are hostage negotiators and negotiate for life every single day. One of them was one of the leads in Asia! Like, get out of here (also, for a second I wondered what I was doing with my life)!! They have a success rate of over 80%, which is great, but they’re focused on needed improvements.
We chatted about how they try not to take disappointment from work into their personal lives. Imagine being on one side of a phone call where the outcome could result in life or death. Needless to say, I was intrigued by them and their work. This is one of the best parts about traveling to me…the people I encounter. The funny thing is, they seemed to be fascinated by me, my travels, my life growing up in Nigeria, moving to the States, and then to Europe. I still don’t see how that can be fascinating compared to their lives but they wished they travelled more in their youth.
I learned that hostage negotiators are not just great communicators, they are ELITE! For them, its all about the listening skills. They literally listen to people as though lives depend on it, because they do! Everything they say (and everything they don’t say) matters. I’m sure their negotiating skills could translate in other careers/businesses. Sign me up for lessons, please!
In the end, you never really know who is sitting next to or across from you. People are so interesting, complex, unique, smart, funny, ridiculous! I find that I’m more likely to strike a conversation with a stranger when I travel alone as I did in Copenhagen. Plus, I can say I’ve had my photo taken by a hostage negotiator :). Lastly, they reinforced that I shouldn’t ‘discount’ my story as uninteresting as I often do, someone around the corner sees something fascinating! Own it, own all of you (I’m talking to myself here too but be humble though)!
This is the third in my Series ‘If Heels Could Talk: Stories From The Road.’ First, I wrote about leaving my friend at the airport in Lima, Peru here and then I wrote about going on a trip to Bolivia without a visa here. Read up and play catch up!
What interesting people have you met on the road? I challenge you to strike a conversation with a stranger next time you travel (or heck even on your commute to work). You never know what you’ll learn about others or about yourself!
Have an amazing week!