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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Closed, Burnt or Building Bridges

If a picture paints a thousand words then a metaphor paints a thousand pictures.

Perhaps not scientifically accurate, but you know what I mean? For example if I told you I needed to "build a bridge with someone" I wouldn't need to say a lot more about what I needed to do. That is the saying contains much more information than just the 3 words. If I then told you "the bridge is closed", you'd also get a sense of the current relationship with the other person. 

With the recent lengthy closure of the Forth Road Bridge here in Scotland I wondered what additional advice could be obtained when talking metaphorically about building, or burning bridges with others. 

That is instead of advising you to ring the person you're wanting to build bridges with, or spend time with them, or speak to someone close to them we use the language of the metaphor, and talk about diversions, alternatives and contingency plans. 

The benefit of talking metaphorically in this way is that we don't get caught up in the content of the actual situation - the "he said this" then "she said that" and "why bother" etc. By keeping away from the content we're increasing the likelihood of finding a solution, because the frustrations and emotions of the real life situation don't come with us. These frustrations just get translated into aspects of the metaphor - and are much easier to deal with as a result. 

Anyway enough preamble. If you're in need of a different perspective around a situation where you're feeling like you either need to build, cross of burn bridges then read on. 

I'd suggest reading it factually at first - ie don't start to think what does a diversion look like in your current situation. Just read it, and add your own suggestions, and then once you've done that go back and think about what that really means in reality in the current situation. 

Building Bridges

Here's what observations I might make from the current closure of the Forth Road Bridge: 
  • It's too easy to take for granted bridges we use every day 
  • It's not the fault of the users that the bridge was closed
  • It's not the decision of the users that the bridge was closed - although for safety reasons I think they all agree
  • If existing bridges are not well maintained they can deteriorate and close unexpectedly
  • If a bridge is closed for some time the diversions might be lengthy, involve slower speeds and therefore take longer, and as a result bring with it much frustration (if my personal and recent experience is anything to go by)
  • Diversions might mean you give up using the route 
  • Closed bridges don't only impact those who travel across them - there's a whole list of interested parties
  • Once a bridge is closed everyone gets involved, and even those not impacted hear all about it and who is to blame etc  
  • Diversions may include travelling over unknown routes, and may not always be well signposted - so Satnav or a map might be handy 
  • Changing the time of travel may speed up your journey
  • Alternates are unlikely to take the same route even if they take you to the same destination (Scotrail and Stagecoach) - they're likely to be busy too
  • There may be more direct options than using the bridge - ignored because the bridge was there - plane, boat or hovercraft, and for other bridges swimming, jet ski, wading and so on   
  • Some alternatives don't require any bridges - phone, skype, webex, working from home or working from a different office etc
  • Communication about the reason for the closure, progress reports, and time for reopening, should be frequent and include multiple stakeholders
  • Contingency plans should be considered if long term closure might be an outcome
  • One such contingency might be building a new bridge 
In this instance there really is a new 'crossing' being built (It's not called a 'bridge'). The new crossing won't be much help however, as the closure of the existing bridge happened in Dec 2015, and the new crossing is not due for completion until December 2016.
  • New bridges take time to build
  • You can't rush the building of a new bridge 
If you were wanting to personally build bridges with someone - what other suggestions are there from the closure of the Forth Road Bridge and what action may you wish to take as result of reading mine and your own observations? More importantly when will you take the action?

Burning Bridges

There's a difference between intentional and unintentional burning of bridges.

If you've unintentionally burnt your bridge, or it was burnt by the other party, then you should read the observations about building bridges above. Remembering that new bridges take time to build, and diversions add extra time and frustration to your day. So best to check you really do want to burn your bridge(s) before you do so - perhaps you might want to consider closing the bridge first to test it out - so much easier to reopen a bridge than rebuild it.       

If you intentionally burnt your bridge(s) that's great - so long as no one else also relies on the bridge. You may not wish to cross the bridge - but others might. You may therefore just want to ensure you avoid the bridge in question and leave it open for others to use? 

I've written separately about someone who was procrastinating for fear of burning bridges

Building and Burning Crossings

Using the language of the new Forth 'crossing' I'd just like to consider what happens when we describe a bridge as a crossing. It certainly doesn't have the same feel to it to me, and having travelled over the Thelwall viaduct earlier in the week I realise there's lots more words we might want to explore using.

That's the interesting part - if we're struggling with building or having burnt our bridges can changing the words change our internal representation somehow, and therefore change our relationship to the situation? Let's see.

If you're wanting to build bridges, and you're being asked to build a crossing instead what does it mean and how does it feel - that is do more options spring to mind on what action to take than when you were building a bridge
  • A crossing doesn't sound as difficult to build
  • It might be a temporary structure
  • It may be moveable - ie more like a ferry or even rowing boat
If you've burnt your crossing - it feels much less permanent and one you can more easily reinstate.

As ever I would love your input, feedback and comment. 

For more on the metaphors hidden in sayings we use in every day life do read these blogs:
Festive greetings 

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Inspiring Change Inside and Out

I also wrote a Purchasing Coach blog on the insights for Procurement arising from the closure of the bridge. and do please follow the link for more on the Landscaping Your life (LYL) Toolkit

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