Building Bridges

I had a business trip scheduled several years ago in Sao Paolo, Brazil.  I was supposed to meet with a group of web designers who were going to help me build a website.  My boss connected me with this group of people- I had not worked with them before.

I sent them a proposed agenda for a 3-day meeting.  I included 10 minutes at the beginning for introductions, and then we were going to dive into the work.

One of the developers called me after she received the agenda.  She explained to me that they didn’t know me, and that they wanted to take some time to get to know me.   I asked how much time they needed, maybe an additional 10-15 minutes?

She told me that the group would like to have coffee with me, and that they wanted to keep drinking coffee until they thought that they knew me.  I asked how long this would take, and she replied “Until we get to know you.  I hope you like our coffee!”

We drank a lot of coffee the first day I arrived in Sao Paolo.  (The coffee was very good, by the way).  When I say a lot of coffee, I mean a LOT of coffee.  And we started to get to know each other.  We shared photos of our families, and started telling stories.   We spent almost the entire first day of my trip getting to know each other.

A few months later, I discovered a small problem with our project.  I called that developer in Sao Paolo, and I asked her for help.  She reminded me of the time we had coffee together, and she reminded me that we knew each other now.  Her team dove into the problem, and fixed it immediately.

I’m glad I drank all of that coffee.


Early in my career, I attended a three-day workshop on Negotiation Skills.  We spent all of the first day talking about trust.

What I learned in that workshop is that it is a lot easier to get work done with people who I trust, and who trust me.   I also have learned that people do better work when they trust each other.

The web developers I worked with in Sao Paolo understood that when they asked me to drink a lot of coffee with them.


I attended a work course last year called “Building Alliances”.  The point of the course was that we are usually not individual contributors at work.  We usually work as part of teams, and if we want to be most effective, we have to have effective work relationships.

Some people call that a “win-win” approach.  If we work well together, we both win.

That approach is true outside of work, too.  My life goes a lot better when I’m surrounded by people who care about me, and who I care about.  We get stuff done for each other, because we are invested in each others lives.

We trust each other.



Our political system used to be based on give and take.  We had political parties, but people crossed party lines in order to get work done.  To some extent, people trusted each other, and got work done together.

We have lost that ability.   I looked up how many bills have been passed in the past year in Congress, and the number is at a 30-year low.  Check it out at:

Why is that?  DIdn’t we elect politicians to get things done?   I did.  I may not agree with every single law passed by my representatives, but I know that I did NOT elect them to sit on their hands and do nothing.

Politicians on both sides of the political divide (and it really is appropriate to use the word “divide”) are now more interested in opposing the other side than they are getting things done.


Politics is messy.  It just is.  It is supposed to be messy.   Politics is supposed to involve compromise, and working with other people.

But what we have right now in our political world is a chronic “lose-lose” situation.  There is no trust, and there is very little work getting done.

On an almost annual basis, we read about “government shutdowns”.  I can’t even believe that I am writing that.

And by the way-both sides are responsible.  Regardless of what side of the divide you live on, your side and my side both play a part in this.


What happens when we stop trusting each other, is that we go from building bridges to building walls.  Figuratively, and literally.

This year we have candidates talking about building walls as their political goal.   Really?  Is that the best we can do in 2016?  Have we become so opposed to everything and everyone that the very best ideas we can propose for ourselves is to keep everyone away from us?

When we stop working with other people, eventually other people stop working with us.

And then we lose.



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