17 Sep Five Quick Ways to Build a Bridge
So many things can divide us as people. Our sex, our race, our dress, our religion, our political party—to name a few. Not to mention our busyness and focus on getting things done. Here are five strategies I’ve started using to make sure my day includes reaching out to another person who is different from me.
1. Make Bridge Building a Priority
Each day I ask myself, “How will I try to build a bridge today?” I often don’t know the answer but asking the question challenges me to find a way. The practice keeps me curious and aware about opportunities to connect with someone outside my usual family and friend group. Recently I’ve started conversations with a cab driver, the cashier at the grocery story, and a relative I hadn’t spoken to for a while because our political views are so disparate.
2. Greet Someone and Ask (an Easy-Going) Question
When checking in with a stranger or an acquaintance I start with a greeting and eye contact. A warm hello and looking someone in the eye are respectful openers and also gives me feedback about whether that person is available to talk. Then I might ask, “How’s your day going?” “It looks busy in here. Has it been a stressful morning?” There are as many questions as there are individuals but questions that have worked for me include, “What’s your story?” “Is this the end of your day or the beginning?” A compliment can also open the door to a talk. “What a beautiful baby!” is a winning opener with most parents.
3. Get Curious.
Easy questions open people up and my curiosity leads me where to go next. I recently had a conversation with a clerk in a department store who I had worked with many times before. We’d always been friendly to one another, but I never asked a question that invited much information. On this particular day I said, “We’ve known each other here for long time and I notice you have an accent. Where are you from?” She smiled and told me that her family had immigrated to the US after the 1979 revolution in Iran. In ten minutes I learned quite a bit about her experience and the success of her family in the US.
4. Build on Your New Relationship
When we connect in small ways and take in another person’s story we may discover other ways to build relationship. I’ve had talks that lead to sharing information that lead to interviews for new jobs and careers. I love when that happens because that kind of networking played a big role in my own career development. It feels terrific to pass that gift on to someone else. Other times in just a few minutes of conversation I’ve learned a stranger’s excitement about a pending marriage or birth–joys that transcend beliefs, political and world views
5. Be Open to Surprises
Not every conversation goes forward in the ways I have described. But it’s been rare for me to encounter unfriendly exchanges. In fact, sometimes a clerk or waiter with a grumpy look will transform when I say, “How’s your day going?” I may learn that their workplace is short-handed or that the person had an accident on the way to work but I also see the tone of our interaction change for the better.
The best surprises are those times when I learn something about the other person I didn’t expect. On a cab ride to the airport I met a driver from Somalia. I asked, “How long have you been driving?” I discovered he had been in IT repair and had been let go because there was no demand for computer repair. “Computers are so cheap now,” he said, “no one fixes anything–they buy new.”
The man has 4 kids, two of whom have graduated college in the US. He’d sent two, ages 11 and 13, back to Somalia to live with relatives and “get some experience in working hard” before returning here. “Young kids in the US,” he said, “spend too much screen time and I want my boys focused when they start high school.” He sounded like a thoughtful parent.