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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Exercises in Bridge Building (or Not)

I was having a conversation recently with someone who will remain unnamed.  I was trying to express or get out a thought and wasn't quite successfully relaying my thoughts. That person was just looking at me in a cool, unhelpful way, not saying anything really and not reaching out trying to help me to where I was headed with my thoughts.   Anyone who has spoke in front a group of people and got stuck on blank, disinterested or even hostile stares knows the feeling.  It is like being stranded or exposed, where the discomfort quickly becomes acute.

So, it occurred to me that I could express this (purposeful?) disconnect in terms bridge building.  That is to say, I was building a bridge to my audience (of one) and ran out of materials--got stuck completing or explaining my thought.  Now, I was left stranded or hanging out there without a way to reach my audience.  Had the person been more friendly to me, they'd have grab some supplies--ideas or thoughts--and started building a bridge back to me.  That is to say, they'd have helped me finish my incomplete thought.  Then we'd have had a connection or been 'bridged' together.  Unfortunately, when what you are trying to communicate is important, something suffers when the other party won't help with building the or connecting to your bridge.

After further reflection, I figured or determined that there are at least four types of bridge-building exercises.  Two involve a misconnection, one involves a one-sided connection and the final one involves a good connection where both sides share in the process and benefits


Scenario 1: Leaving me stranded.
  • Characterized by one party getting stuck when trying to express or communicate a thought or idea (run out of supplies and can't build to the other party).  
  • The other party instead of helping the the first party finish connecting--building a bridge towards where they had to stop--leaves them hanging.
    • A blank, clueless or hostile stare.
    • Impatient words or attitude
    • General unwillingness or inability to help the other connect
  • Compels the first party to make sure they have their thoughts or ideas completely buttoned down when communicating with the other party.
  • Discourages the first party from attempting at communicating or connecting, lest they be left hanging when and if they get stuck.


Scenario 2: Close but never quite meeting.
  • Characterized when two parties communicate past each other.  It is like each is building a parallel bridge to the other.  
  • Both parties want to communicate with each other as characterized by both working on a bridge to the other, but don't know how to reach each other or connect.
  • Instead of listening to what the other is saying or the needs of the other, they build a bridge in the direction of where they think the other SHOULD BE and expect the other party to meet them.
  • Instead of stubbornly continuing to build a bridge past the other (talking past each other) and trying to force the other into building their bridge in their direction (expecting them to fit into their thinking), each party should actually pause and see how they can meet.
  • If they stop in their efforts to build a bridge past each other and they start building a bridge towards each other, the bridge my not look pretty, but it will get them where they need to be--specifically communicating and connecting.  Communication doesn't have to be perfect to be effective.  Just like a bridge doesn't have to be built perfectly to get people to where they need to go.


Scenario 3: Bridges always built completely from one direction
  • Characterized when one party is always doing all the bridge building. i.e., in reaching out or communicating with the other.  The other party is open to what you have to say, but they aren't willing to do reach out or do the work to get their.
  • Eventually the first party will run out of building supplies when they are the one(s) always building the bridge to the to other side.  That is to say, eventually when one party is responsible for reaching out, communicating, or connecting, eventually that side will tire of being the bridge builder and no longer have it in them.
  • This type of bridge building may be effective and communication may be good for a time, but for long term bridge building it will fail miserably.  It doesn't compel or teach the other party to work on a bridge towards you. It may even deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to reach you or even worse it may cover up their disinterest in reaching you--communicating--if it isn't on their teams.

Scenario 4: The two sides shall meet in the middle.
  • Characterized when both parties participate in meeting each other in a bridge building exercise (aka communicate or connect).
  • One party might do a bit more of the bridge building, but it is clear each side is trying to their part in the bridge building.  (Each are reaching out, communicating and engaging in give and take).
  • This is the best long term model.  If each believe the other is an active participant in the bridge building exercise, they will know that if their efforts to build a bridge stall (they struggle with communication/connection for a bit), that the other party will carry the effort for a while.
  • In the situation I originally described, the other party to my thoughts or efforts to communicate saw where I was struggling to express myself.  In this scenario, they could have waited patiently while I processed my thought, they could have suggested to me what they thought I might be driving or they could have asked questions to draw that information out.

I feel that it is best possible when needing good communication/connection when dealing with others that, it is always best to extend a little bit of bridge to the other party to start with.  This will show the other party that you are willing to make some effort to meet them in the middle and don't expect them to do all the heavy lifting.  If it is a party that is not necessarily favorably disposed to you, while you extend a little bridge, you limit what you extend.  If it is a party that is favorably disposed to you, it is safer to extend quite a bit of bridge to the other party.  In either case, at some point it is best to give the other party the opportunity to work on building their own bridge back to you.  To deny them that opportunity, deprives them of the opportunity to work on their own communication/connection skills as well sets up an expectation that they don't have to.  In either case, it is important to remember bridge building with others, especially loved ones is not necessarily a one-time exercise but a life-long process.  Learning how to effectively connect and communicate--and maintain such connection/communication--with others, especially loved ones, is something that will always require some work and never should be taken for granted.

I believe my Higher Power (God), made us social creatures, but He also gave us a free will.  Therefore, the desire to communicate and connect with others is always there, but knowledge how to do so effectively and the willingness to do what it takes can be a sticking point.  I believe if we remember these things when considering how we relate to others, we will be at a good starting point for effective bridge building...