Building Bridges Instead Of Putting Up Walls

Swallowing your pride seldom leads to indigestion.

Have you ever thought, “Life would be great if it weren’t for certain people”? And do you know someone at work, that if he or she disappeared during lunch, your life would be better? Probably so. You may even live with such a person.

Or as one of my speaker friends asks his audiences, “How many of you are convinced that one of your children just couldn’t be yours? And how many of you live in fear that your kids, once they’ve grown up and left the house, will come back?”

Of course my friend is joking. But all of us have some challenging people on our teams, in our customer base, and at home. And we may dream about how much nicer and easier life would be if we could just wall them out.

Mark Crow wrote about those yearnings. He said, “How many times have I heard that ‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?’ And how true it does seem, for I often find myself reviewing my neighbor’s ‘grass’ with envy. But lately I have found myself wondering if I spent a little less time watching my neighbor’s grass and a little more time fertilizing my own, perhaps it would grow to be just as green. After all, isn’t my side the other side of the fence to my neighbor?”

He’s right. When you’re tempted to build a wall or erect a fence, consider building a bridge. After all, it takes just as much work to build one as it does the other. Instead of shutting out or ignoring the challenging individual, look for ways to connect — because sometimes you have to work or live with someone… whether you want to or not. I’ve found the following process works very well.

=> 1. Swallow your pride.

Stop giving the impression that you know it all. And stop acting like you’re always right. That only makes the other person pretend that he knows everything also. Instant wall.

On the other hand, if you say you may be wrong, the challenging individual is more likely to say she may be wrong. Instant bridge.

As psychologist Dr. Bev Smallwood says, put the focus on WHAT is right, not WHO is right. Look for truth in all points of view, and work together to find a solution that works for everyone.

But if you’re the kind of person who can’t let go of an argument until you’ve won, you’re in trouble. Even if you “win,” you haven’t. The “loser” will get you back sometime, somehow.

It takes a bit of humility to swallow your pride. It takes the opposite of what Ted Turner espouses. He said, “If only I had a little more humility, I’d be perfect.”

=> 2. Make the first move.

Quit keeping score as to who’s turn it is. So what if you called your customer three times before he called you back. So what if you e-mailed your friend four times before she answered. If you need to make contact with your customer, keep on calling. If you want to maintain your relationship with a certain friend, keep on e-mailing. Their lack of response could be a sign of their disinterest, but more often than not it’s a sign of their poor time management skills.

If you don’t make the first move, there may not be a chance for a second move. And yes, yes, I know; it’s not fair… that you have to take more than your share of the initiation with people. It “should” be 50-50, but it never will be.

So face it. You can gripe about the way things “should” be, or you can deal with things the way they are. Personally, I prefer the latter approach. If I want to build a bridge to someone else, I’ll make the first move… and the second… and third… if I need to.

It’s like the one young man who had quarreled with his parents and left home in anger. After some years of partying and living his life the way he wanted, he boarded a train and headed for home. As the train neared his farm, the young man told his seat mate that he had written a letter to his parents, asking for their forgiveness, and begging them to take him back. He was making the first move toward reconciliation.

He told his seat mate that he asked his parents for a sign. If they wanted him back, they were to tie a white rag to the old elm tree in the back yard. But he told his seat mate, “I can’t look. I’m afraid. Please look for me.”

As they rounded the bend, his neighbor peered out the window and exclaimed, “Look! There’s not only one rag, there are hundreds! Every branch is covered!”

So go ahead and make the first move if that other person, your friend, your customer, your coworker, or that relationship is important to you.

=> 3. Listen

It’s one of the best ways to build a bridge to someone else. And yet some people have never learned the art of listening.

Such was the case of one acquaintance. He was completely lost in the kitchen and never ate unless someone prepared a meal for him. A bit sexist and old-fashioned.

Nonetheless, when his wife was ill, he volunteered to go to the supermarket to get some groceries. She sent him off with a carefully numbered list of seven items. He came back shortly, very proud of himself, and proceeded to unpack the grocery bags. He had 1 bag of sugar, 2 dozen eggs, 3 hams, 4 boxes of detergent, 5 boxes of crackers, 6 eggplants, and 7 green peppers.

Obviously he hadn’t learned much about listening over the years. But relationships are built on listening. And problems are solved when listening takes place. As Charlie Tremendous Jones says, “The more you listen, the more ‘how’s’ you’ll know. You’ll know how to go about fixing the broken bridges in your life.”

=> 4. Look for something positive in every person you meet and in every idea you encounter.

I’m not saying that every person is pleasant at work, and I’m not saying every idea you hear is a good one. No. In fact, there is usually something wrong with every person and idea you come across.

But bridge builders don’t discount potentially profitable ideas just because there’s an objectionable element involved. And bridge builders don’t ignore some possibly helpful people because of some negative quality in their lives.

Instead, smart people isolate or discard the erroneous element in an overall good idea and keep the rest. Smart people overlook the irritating factor in someone’s personality if there are other factors that make the relationship healthy enough to pursue.

You’ve got to be discriminating. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Use the four tips I’ve given you today, and you’ll be a carpenter who builds bridges to others… just like this story.

The Carpenter

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart.

It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox.

“I’m looking for a few days work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor; in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us, and he took his bulldozer to the river levee. Now there is a creek between us. He may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence — an eight-foot fence… so I won’t have to look at his place anymore.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger, and I’ll do the job.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready, and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there as all! It was a bridge — stretching from one side of the creek to the other!

It was a fine piece of work, handrails and all — and there was his neighbor, his younger brother, coming across, his hand outstretched. “You’re quite a man to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand.

Then they turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder.

“No wait! Stay a few more days. I have a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said as he walked away, “but I have many more bridges to build.”

Action:  List 3 people where you need to make the first move. Then do it.