Three Ways to Build Bridges When Constructing Walls is All the Rage
“History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals.” -Haile Selassie
He’s black. I’m not.
He’s fiercely liberal. I’m not.
He grew up poor. I did not.
His dad wasn’t around. Mine was.
He never graduated high school. I did.
He’s divorced. I’m not.
He’s childless. I have four kids.
Perhaps most divisive: He loves cats. I have allergies to them [and much prefer dogs!]
This is a partial list of the wall of differences that separated my driver and me on a recent commute. There was nothing from our backgrounds, interests or beliefs that suggested a possible connection between the driver up front to his passenger in the back.
And yet, in spite of all the reasons we shouldn’t get along or that we should maybe even hate one another, Al and I laughed, agreed, and connected to such a degree during our 30 minute transit that we exchanged phone numbers, committed to staying in touch and even hugged goodbye.
Three Tips for Making Connections
With the divisiveness in our communities, it’s essential we reconnect with one another. And so, I’d like to share three simple strategies to elevate not just your business commutes, but conversations you have at the coffee shop, in the boardroom and around the family table. Here’s how:
1.Own the conversation from the start (Don’t wait!)
In reading this, you probably assume the suggestion here is to get the first word in, be more adamant, and set the stage for winning the debate. Plenty of examples of owning conversations like this exist in our political landscape today and on our cable news programs at night.
But my suggestion is very different. Before the business meeting, sales call, or conversations at home commence, speak these words: “I love you. And, no, there is nothing you can do about it.” Now, you may want to whisper them to yourself, otherwise the driver of the car or the person on the other end of the phone may get scared! But I’ve found these words open wide our ears, soften our judgements, slow our responses, and create space for healthier, more productive conversations.
So, love them from the start. And, no, there is nothing they can do about it.
2. Actively listen as if they are the only person (They are!)
“Actually, most people just sit back, look down, and bury their head in their phone. After enough one-word answers, I usually just stop asking questions.”
This was Al’s response when I asked if he had lots of fascinating conversations with those he drives. Yes, we’re all busy. Yes, the demands to be more productive weigh on us all. But to share the same air with someone… for 30 minutes… and to never look up, make eye contact, share, listen and connect?
The inability to stay focused on the individual in front of us isn’t exclusively reserved for passengers in the back seat of town cars. Look around the coffee shops, business meetings and places of public gatherings. We are distracted by technology. Texts summon us. Beeps beckon us. Facebook pokes us. Google alerts us. All keeping us from being fully engaged in the conversations.
And it happens in our homes, too. Overscheduled, under pressure, tied to work, and busy with the unimportant, we lessen our ability to connect in positive ways with our children (negatively affecting their self-esteem), with our partners (negatively affecting intimacy and connectivity), and with ourselves (negatively affecting our sense of who we are and what actually matters). It’s a big deal!
So, put it down. And look up.
3. Be passionately curious as if their opinion actually matters (It does!)
“How do you know?”
This is my eight-year-old son Henry’s favorite question. While it occasionally gets frustrating to explain why we need to leave now or we’ll be late….or we need to study spelling words or we’ll fail…or we better get gas now or we’ll run out…there’s a lot to be said about asking clarifying questions.
There are plenty of ways to ask elucidating questions. How do you know? Can you tell me more about that? Why does that matter to you? In asking these types of questions during a conversation two remarkable things happen. The first is that on a topic we were previously ill-informed, we now have actual clarifying information. Growing from the perspective of another matters around political divides, decisions within our businesses, or interactions at home.
And the second is that the person sharing actually has the opportunity to elaborate, be heard, educate and perhaps even persuade another. Far from dividing, it actually serves as an awesome opportunity to unite.
So, ask questions. Curiosity opens doors; certainty shuts them.
We Must Become the Bridge Builders
With another tragic shooting in a synagogue, pipe bombs in the mail, angry tweets online, loud protests on the streets, and yelling on television, it’s never been easier to disengage, to pull back and to become disenfranchised with it all. It’s never been easier to cocoon with others who share our opinions, to unfriend those who don’t, and to get busy doing the unimportant.
In short, it’s never been easier to build walls that divide us.
But today, choose a different building project. History teaches that unity is strength and the way forward requires coming together to overcome differences in the quest for common goals.
And it starts today, where you are, with the person in front of you, regardless of where you’re heading.
You may not be converted into a cat lover, but the bridges you build may just lead to new information, the start of a new friendship, and a sincere hug goodbye.
This is your day. Live Inspired.
In an era of such divisiveness, I appreciate our Live Inspired Community more than ever. We come together to live our best lives, cheer each other on, and realize that when we use challenges as springboards to opportunity, the very best is yet to come. That’s why, during November, I’m releasing an extra mini episode of the Live Inspired Podcast each week. On Monday mornings, I’ll highlight one of our community members who is living inspired + answer a question they’ve asked me. Join us for the special Ask John episode here or anywhere you get your podcasts.