Bridgeworks 150 150 Ben Coker


Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about dentistry!

Apart from that, there are three things you can do with a bridge.

Build it, cross it, or burn it.

And you may end up doing all three with the same bridge.

Where I live we’re receiving the benefit of a beautiful and impressive new bridge across the river. It’s an important route and was much needed as the ‘old’ bridge was getting very run down and unable to handle the volume of traffic which had increased significantly since it was built around 50 years ago.

But this isn’t about that kind of bridge either.

I’m thinking about the concept of a bridge.

Why we need them.

Why we need to keep them open and use them.

And why, sometimes, we need to ‘burn’ them

You see, ‘bridges’ are all about communication, but they are also about other things as well.

They are also about journeys and travel, and about processes and outcomes or results, and about goals and visions.

Most of all though bridges are about ‘gaps’, and obstacles and barriers.

I once spent several hours when I was working with the rail industry, in a seemingly interminable debate about the difference between a ‘bridge’ and a ‘tunnel’ and how they should be defined.

I won’t bore you with the outcome (no pun intended) but a ‘difference’ was agreed.

This of course was only about structure – I was chairing a meeting of civil engineers – in fact, bridges and tunnels are the same. They serve the same purpose.

It’s just a question of whether you go through the barrier or over or under it – even round it sometimes.

Very often you and I are faced with a situation where we have a specific goal in mind.

We know where we are, and we know where we want to end up.

We may be unsure of the process we need to follow.

We may be unsure of the route we need to take

And we may be unsure of the ‘communications’ or ‘supply lines’ we need in place to follow up and support us on our journey along the route and through the process.

But most of all we don’t know what might be ‘in the way’.

We can start off and proceed along the path, but we can’t see the canyon in front of us until we get to the rim, we can’t see how wide and fast the river is until we get there, and we can’t really assess how big or impassable the mountain is until we’re up close.

Everything can be going really well, until.

Until we hit one of those obstacles, some foreseen some perhaps not.

Then we have to build a bridge.

But what happens when those obstacles are people?

I’m not talking about ‘hostile tribes’ but about people you and I know, even people we love.

What happens when they object, when they can’t see our vision, or when they just don’t want to go along with us?

When this happens you and I need, again, to build a ‘bridge’.

A way round or through the obstacles that are presented to us.

And it’s not a case of “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” because ‘that bridge’ rarely exists.

We have to build it before we can cross it.

And we have to agree on the style of that bridge – a flimsy rope bridge, a temporary wooden bridge, or a solid steel and concrete structure that will last for a long time.

The nature of the bridges we build with people depends on three things:

The quality of the relationship

The nature of the ‘obstacle’

The efficiency and effectiveness of the communications, the communication skills on both ‘sides’ of the ‘gap’.

Are we having to ‘shout’ across the chasm to make each other’s points of view heard or do we have a more civilized channel of communication?

Maybe the first step in building the bridge is to set up a proper line of communication across the gap, which hopefully will be more efficient than mirrors or smoke signals.

Building bridges between people is all about communications – talking to each other, and once we’ve established the bridge we need to keep it open.

You and I need to keep our ‘communication bridges’ open with the people we value (in whatever way) so that the bridge doesn’t fall into disrepair and become difficult or dangerous to negotiate.

And of course, unlike our new local bridge across the river, there shouldn’t be any ‘tolls’.

No ‘costs’, hidden or otherwise, of communicating with those people whose contact we value, no ‘scores’ kept on how many times we have been informed or consulted about something.

No recriminations about not keeping in touch or not being ‘told’.

Sometimes though, you and I know that communication does break down, and then we have to make a decision.

Is it time to burn that bridge?

Is it time to cut off communication with someone?

Remembering that once you are ‘on the other side’ its very difficult indeed to turn back and attempt to rebuild the bridge.

Burned bridges, especially those with people are almost impossible to recreate.

We can of course ‘abandon’ a bridge and allow it to fall into disrepair. Then there is, albeit dangerous, a way back.

But you have to be careful, you don’t want to be in the middle of that bridge when the other person decides to set fire to it!

You and I need to keep our bridges with others open, in a good state of repair, regularly used and maintained through constant communication – reciprocity.

That doesn’t mean you have to constantly ‘play tennis’ with everyone you communicate with by responding to every message. Not every message needs a response. All you and I need to do is remember when ‘the ball is in our court’ and keep a healthy flow of communication going without too many long gaps.

It depends on the nature of the relationship of course, but to keep the bridge open, there has to be balance. Too much traffic coming in one direction and not enough going in the other will eventually cause the bridge to collapse.

I’m off to survey my bridges – check out my communications – see if there are any that need attention, or maintenance, rebuilding, or perhaps even burning!