Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in a community program called Leadership Springfield. This experience introduced me to the Springfield arts, sporting venues, businesses, governmental entities, and so much more. Better yet, it connected me to 31 other individuals looking to invest time in the place they chose to live, work, and play.

However, this program also resulted in the realization that while I had and still have a secure and easily accessible circle of people and friends, there are so many stories, personalities, and demographics that I have never exposed myself to.

In other words, I have done a great job at bonding and spending time with my close circles and having real discussions with people who are like me. At the same time, I have failed at the opportunity to bridge and form relationships with people different from me. These relationships are ones that I have selfishly steered away from because of the following reasons:

  1. It may open myself up to conflict or difference in thought.
  2. It may require me to put in further effort, time, and energy.
  3. These relationships may force me to be vulnerable with too many people.

Here is the disappointing thing about this; I love meeting people and learning their unique stories and understanding what makes them tick. It is one of my favorite things to do and one of my strengths. If you are familiar with StrengthsFinder by Gallup, it is referred to Individualization. Thus, my fear or reluctance to bridge has also been hindering me from using my strengths and passion to better help people at work and the community. It has probably caused you to miss out on an opportunity, too.

As I have begun my journey to bridge and continue to think about my approach to forming these relationships, I wanted to share some best practices that I have learned through mine and others’ experiences.

1. Ask the Question – Statistically, do you know how many conversations are avoided because we already assume that we know someone’s perspective or stance on a topic? Me either; but from what we see and what I have experienced, it is a lot. Let’s start asking each other questions and quit assuming we know the answer before the question has even been asked.

2. Be Inviting – As a society, we conform and become people of habit. We drive the same route to work. We go to the same restaurants. We sit in the same pews and seats. What if we sat somewhere else? What if we truly invited someone different than us to join us at an upcoming event? This does not mean saying, “join us anytime,” or “my door is always open,” but instead saying, “I will pick you up at 6, and we can go together” or “I put a time on the calendar for us to actually talk.”

3. Create a Place – Nothing can happen without a Place. Whether bonding or bridging, identify a Place to have safe and intentional conversation. In the workplace, we call this Place a Core Team. It brings cross-functional people together to share ideas and decide on what is important for the organization to work on.

4. Have Grace – When we are different, we communicate and look at things differently. We need to stop avoiding or berating each other for the way we are hardwired and our past experiences, but instead use uncomfortable moments as teaching moments.

I encourage you to join me in the effort of bridging and inviting people to work socials and community events. It may require you to have 3 cups of coffee in the morning or drive to the ‘other side’ of town, but it’s also going to make us all better for each other.