The Three Bridges
Bridge over troubled waters. A bridge too far. Golden Gate Bridge. Bridge over River Kwai. London Bridge. Building bridges. Burning your bridges. Water under the bridge. We’ll cross that bridge later. Bridge-to-nowhere.
There are many kinds of bridges. A bridge offers you safe passage over an obstacle. I usually discuss the three bridges as they pertain to communication. However, it occurred to me that I needed to expand out my vision of the Attitude Reconstruction Three Bridges to meet the emotionally fraught times we are all experiencing with all the divisions in our lives.
Sometimes it’s obvious what emotion a person is dealing with. Other times it’s not. With just a little practice, you’ll be able to recognize the emotions underlying other people’s demeanor, words, and actions.
Rather than getting sucked into a knee-jerk reaction because of their abrupt tone, negativity, or finger-pointing tirade, you can get to the heart of the matter and extend a communication “bridge.” You’ll be offering what they truly long to get but don’t know how to ask for; you can help them shift their emotional state.
The Three Focuses of Our Attention
If it’s not obvious what emotion is likely going on for them, ask yourself, “Where is their attention focused?” “What are they talking about?”
They will be focused predominantly in one direction, but two or three can be in play. If they exhibit symptoms of more than one, you’ll need to offer more than one bridge to help them totally regain a centered state.
An example of this could be someone who is anxious about an upcoming job interview and doubting their qualifications. They are probably feeling fear (anxious), and sadness. Their focus is in the future and they are also focused on feeling not good enough. They need both reassurances and validation so they can get grounded, present, and confident.
The Three Bridges
Here are the three amigos (aka the Three Bridges) – appreciations, understanding, and reassurances. There are only three concepts to remember…
If Someone Is Feeling Sad…
People who often experience sadness (but often don’t cry enough) are most likely thinking or speaking poorly of themselves, unless they are mourning a loss or acknowledging a hurt. You can recognize them because they may be acting passively, clingy, and feeling unworthy or unlovable. What they need are genuine appreciations. In your interactions with them, you need to convey the idea, “I love you. You’re great.” Also, remind them of and praise them for their strengths and contributions.
If Someone Is Feeling Angry…
Folks often striking out in anger and leading with blame, negativity, and criticism, actually just feel isolated and are in desperate need of understanding. They won’t respond well to debates, lectures, or reprimands. The chances they’ll hear what you have to say are slim to none, unless you can genuinely connect with them first. You need to sincerely hear them out without reacting or taking what they say personally.
Focus on what’s going on with them behind their angry words and let the attacks go flying by. Work very hard not to respond to their accusations. Silently repeat or say, “I want to understand their perspective” and just listen. It doesn’t help to try to correct them up and you definitely shouldn’t take what they are saying personally. Remember, you are just the misplaced target of their anger.
If Someone Is Feeling Fear…
If someone is overwhelmed, anxious, or totally stressed out, chances are they have some unexpressed fear stocked up. It doesn’t matter if it’s due to a physical ailment, unknown financial future, or concern about a family member. They need honest reassurances. Comfort, soothe, and repeatedly remind them that “Everything is and will be all right.” Other reassuring comments are “We’ll make our way through this together,” “I’m here,” or “I’ll take care of it.” Or offer them reminders of the objective reality: “Your boss really likes the work you do,” or “You’ve done this successfully before.”
Why Extend a Bridge
You’ll deepen your personal relationships when you become adept at recognizing the emotions of others. You can use this knowledge to communicate in the ways most helpful to them. What an amazing talent you’ll be cultivating. For example, if you know that your husband is quick to anger, you can consciously and silently listen to understand his position, especially at times when he is upset or under stress.
If a neighbor seems glum or down, you can recognize and validate their talents and skills a little more often. And when someone close to you is anxious or freaking out, appreciations and compliments are of little help at that moment. Instead offer them repeated honest reassurances.
Use the Three Bridges with Yourself
If you’re unable or unwilling to offer a communication bridge, it’s probably because your own unexpressed emotions are getting in the way. It’s okay. You’re human. To quickly reignite your compassion, take a brief time-out and handle your own emotions.
You can extend the three bridges to yourself. When you are feeling sad or down on yourself, give yourself appreciations. “I did it. Good for me.”
When you are feeling angry or frustrated, try to understand what’s really going on for you and offer yourself empathy and compassion. “I was upset and tired. At least I gave it my best shot.”
When you are feeling scared, nervous, or anxious, reassure yourself by repeating, “It’s okay. Everything is all right. I can make it through this.”