Last week my wife and I found a double billing on a credit card we seldom use. We discovered that we had been charged quite a bit for online gaming and gaming equipment by a neighbor boy.
As I drove to the home of the neighbor boy, I thought about how to handle the situation. I chose to speak to the father calmly, to tell him what I knew, and asked him to investigate to see if he came up with the same story and numbers we had come up with.
It could have gone badly, but the father heard me out and I didn't get too excited. There was no blaming or defensive posturing. It ended up that there was a feasible, plausible misunderstanding on the boy's part and a payment arrangement was made.
Had the situation gone south — as it could have easily — the repercussions would have been long-lasting and bridges would have been burned. We are neighbors, and in the same church group. My boy and this boy play sports together. Talk about awkward.
But cool heads prevailed, and I might even have made a friend in the process of working things out. Not only did I not burn a bridge, but I may have built one.
The point of no return
Every decision I make in dealing with others has a tradeoff. We all have strengths and weaknesses. My point of view may be different from your point of view, and yet both deserve to be heard out respectfully. There are very few things that are black or white. Once we understand this concept, we are more likely to build bridges than tear them down.
The typical point of no return describes the place from which one must continue on the current path because turning back is improbable or impossible.
However, "improbable" or "impossible" is largely subjective. When I hurl a final pithy but mean phrase at someone and slam the door on my way out, the bridge is on its last leg. If days go by and I keep my apology to myself, the bridge burns to the ground.
When I have burned a bridge in the past — and I have burned several bridges with ridicules behavior — I often still retain the power to mend them or build them anew. It's arrogance or pride that keeps me from doing so.
Bridge building requires an acknowledgement that what I need/want may be difficult for the other person to hand me. So I give a little, and hopefully, the other person gives as well until we literally meet in the middle somewhere.
To do this, I have to grow up. I have to take a good look at myself, and I have to be willing to lose pride points in exchange for building blocks.
Take a chance and extend the hand. It may come back to you a bit bloody, but you will reap benefits in the long run. It might take several years to re-build, but a simple, one-man Indiana Jones rope bridge is still a bridge.
Create honest dialogue
A monologue is what I use when I am trying to win someone over to my side, when I am trying to convert or save someone. Talk, talk talk. A dialogue promotes listening and understanding. Turn your monologue into something more productive by simply including the other person: Instead of I, me and mine, dialogue creates you, your, us and "what do you think?"
Fresh courage take
It takes a significant amount of heart, gallantry and daring to deal honestly with feelings and vulnerabilities. Eat your proverbial Wheaties and give it a shot. You might find out that, if the situation was reversed, you may have thought, felt or done the very same thing.
Put yourself in another person's shoes and try to understand from his point of view. When we understand another's view point, it is so much harder to make him out to be the enemy and assign him the blame. We fear what we don't understand.
Acknowledge that, "I'm the yin and you're the yang, and we might be able to come up with something that works for both of us." There is something to be said for the old parenting trick of sitting two feuding children together and giving them a job to do. Together.
Honest conversations are hard to do, but they take place every day between people who want something greater in their lives: wife and husband, brother and sister and my neighbor and me. Eat the Wheaties and build that bridge.