Five To Turn Walls into Bridges

Representative Kyrsten Sinema was born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1976 and has lived in Phoenix since 1995. First elected to the State Legislature in 2004, she was re-elected in 2006 to continue serving central Phoenix in District 15. Kyrsten's book, Unite and Conquer, is out now.

Identifying common ground with someone holding different views from you remains the fundamental first step to building a winning coalition. Too often, we assume that we can't possibly work successfully with others who think differently from us. This fallacy builds walls between us that get in the way of reaching our mutual goals. (For some, it's winning a campaign, and for others, it might be taking over the world.) Consider Kyrsten's five quick tips to help you start breaking the proverbial bread with that person you've always argued with:

1. Laugh. And by laugh, I mean laugh at something other than the person you're working to build a bridge with. I typically start with myself. (Luckily, I have lots of flaws so there's tons to make fun of.) If you are uptight and unable to make fun of yourself, or if you're perfect, then laugh at something harmless - like your mom. Laughing with another person breaks down barriers almost instantly, leaving two people enjoying the happy moment that comes with joy, smiles, and a great joke. Once you've shared a good laugh with another person, neither of you will forget that little bond you share.

2. Chill out. We build walls so quickly, laying brick after brick with every rude, insensitive, boorish, or flat-out wrong comment made by another person. Some people specialize in barbs that psyche you into warp speed, building sky-high walls. Only when we consciously remind ourselves that their barbs and boorish comments are about them, not us, can we stop building and relax. Those who make frequent comments that poke others are simply sharing their insecurities about their own selves or positions. Instead of building higher walls in response, think how lucky you are not to be burdened with that insecurity. Responding maturely without ire will not only prevent your walls from going up, they'll chip away at his/her walls, too.

3. Ask about his/her kids. Or his/her alma mater, or sports, or knitting, or favorite food. Actually, ask about anything. When you take the time to learn a little something about another person's life, you get a glimpse into that person's realness. Not only do you see the other person in a new light, that person will see you in a different light as well. It becomes a lot harder to detest the person who shares the same frustration you feel about your 13 year old daughter's phone habits.

4. Take a walk on the wild side. Spend some time learning about the "other side" - whether that other side means another person, group, or just some stuff you understand. Reading the Economist, listening to a sermon, attending a meeting or lecture, or, in my case, watching Fox News -- all are venues to learn about those who are different than yourself. While much of today's media highlights the differences between us, (trust me on this, I am in politics after all) these are often overblown, cartoonish versions of real people and real life. Spending some time learning about the other peopke or their stuff can help demystify them and perhaps even burst some of your preconceived bubbles about them.

5. Listen.
This one remains my favorite. It's also the one I'm worst at. Listening to others can be so hard, especially when I am bursting with so many brilliant things to say! But talking and talking and talking without leaving space in your head to listen only pushes people away. Take time to listen to what others say - and more importantly, what they mean. Listening for understanding can break down parts of the wall that are based on misconceptions, rumors, or faulty facts. Listening also symbolizes respect - listening to another, even if you don't agree with his/her statements tells that person that you care and that you respect him/her.

Do you have any other ideas for building bridges or any comments on Kyrsten's hints? Chime in below.


Frank said...

And this is newsworthy?

Anonymous said...

Frank -- just curious, why would it not be newsworthy? The common consensus is that our new president can walk on water and people are expecting some very big things of him -- probably more than he can deliver. So a more cautionary approach is important, I think...

StevefromStPaul said...

Of course Obama must listen to voices from the other side of the aisle, not because it may be politically expedient to do so (it probably isn't) but because there are actually some ideas there worth incorporating from time to time. Not often, but sometimes.

However investigating and prosecuting the previous administration's lawbreaking isn't looking backward or playing a blame game, it's proving that in this country no one, not even the president, is above the law. At a minimum, the previous administration has admitted to violating FISA and torture laws, and evidence of the illegal politicization of the Justice Dept. and federal courts abounds. Richard Nixon said that if the president does it, it's not illegal, and his pardon affirmed that. Thus, the idea of the imperial presidency was not quashed and could resurface, to our great detriment, 30 years later. If Bush-Cheney can break the law with impunity, we will be proving that Nixon was right: the president is above the law. And that would bode ill for our future.

Unknown said...

I like #1 - absolutely republicans and democrats (and independents) have the same rights to be heard and respected. I also take issue with #5 though - I don't want my children to learn that you can get away with breaking laws and violating your own personal ethics because there are extenuating circumstances like rampant house foreclosures and high gas prices. That seems rather vapid. (I'm sure the author is not, but that particular point was).

Anonymous said...

Obama and the Congressmembers each swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. What part of the Constitution says that big, important people don't have to follow the laws?!

Anonymous said...

#3 really resonates with me. Extremism exists on both sides of the isle, and if the most liberal part of the Democratic party demands that all their agenda items are followed to the exclusion of getting anything done anytime soon, than we are no better than before when the most radical Republicans were demanding the same of Bush. Bravo, Kyrsten!

Anonymous said...

I am sure Obama is concious of these & i still Obama looks at
"what Obama Should not Do" since the world expects him to last longer as The President of the greatest democracy in the world & to lead the whole world to economic prosperity from the peril we are in at the momet.

BK said...

There's definitely a lot to be done here and it looks like Obama is already shaking things up -- on both sides of the aisle. The point about not promising what you cannot deliver is particularly powerful -- especially since a lot of people seem to think that he has promised many things that I have never heard him promise...

Anonymous said...

All of these good suggestions flow from a decision to act out of humility. Humility means assuming that the administration does not have all the answers. Relationships with all stripes of discourse, American as well as global, is critical. Also implied in the five suggestions is the concept of accountability. That means taking responsibility for mistakes, and issuing an apology when an apology is due. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves; it means thinking of ourselves less often.

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