When we first started working together, Luke drove me nuts.
We approached leadership and work in very different ways. He was structured and formal. I was looser and more casual. He wanted everyone to respect him because of his position and title. I didn’t have a high position, so I earned respect through influence and trust. He took positions I disagreed with, so we openly opposed one another in meetings and discussions. I thought he was arrogant and quick-tempered; he thought I was young and naive.
We were a match made in heaven!
But over time, a miracle occurred. The walls between us softened, and we became friends. We even became co-belligerents on certain causes. I can still remember the day I came home and told my wife that Luke was leaving our organization. My wife said she was surprised to hear I was sad. I said I was going to miss working with him. She began to laugh, sharing how she wished she had a time machine to bring the me who used to rage about Luke into the present so she could see the disbelief on his face.
The Power of Common Ground
How did Luke and I go from constantly frustrating each other to becoming friends?
- We listened to each other and found places where we agreed.
- We grew to understand one another better, and this understanding led to a new appreciation.
- We watched each other be judged, labeled and categorized unfairly by others. We stood up for one another out of empathy.
- We got misled by the same leader and encouraged one another through a season of disillusionment.
- We worked on common causes together, celebrating progress and success.
I won’t paint an unreal picture of our relationship. We still consistently annoyed one another. We never became best friends. We even argued differing positions with passion. But when we said goodbye, we knew our lives would be a little emptier without the others’ presence.
This is the power of common ground.
Common ground turns an enemy into a friend. Because of common ground, someone who annoys us can become someone who encourages us.
Common ground is essential to working together with others, especially those who are very different and with whom we struggle to get along.
Common ground is the only way I know to build unity, not uniformity, amidst genuine diversity.
10 Principles for Building Common Ground With Someone Who Frustrates You
How do we build this common ground? Here are ten principles I took from my experience with Luke and still apply today. Putting these in action could transform your relationships.
Listen more, talk less.
It’s difficult to know where you have common ground with someone else if you’re the one doing all the talking. Study the other person.
Look for places of agreement (even on little things).
A small place where two people come together can become a large area of common commitment over time. No affinity or agreement is too small on which to start building.
Seek to understand more than to be understood.
Try to see the world from their perspective. Listen to not only their words but feelings and emotions too. Everybody has a story if you’ll stop long enough to hear it.
Allow understanding to increase appreciation.
As you understand someone’s point of view, you can begin to appreciate it. Appreciation is not agreement, but it does lead to more generosity in the relationship.
Develop empathy in places where common experiences emerge.
Empathy bonds us to each other, and it leads us to stand in solidarity with others during their struggle. Suffering connects in ways success cannot.
Encourage others during their struggles.
Dropping someone a note of encouragement or gratitude as they battle in an area can disarm them and encourage their efforts. No one is over-encouraged.
Anticipate the discomfort.
One of my mentors once told me, “nothing will mess with your religion and politics more than meeting someone on the other side and discovering you like them.” Common ground is not for the faint of heart, but the pain transforms us.
Find something to work together on and celebrate the outcome.
Common ground is a great idea, but it’s an even better practice. Common ground leads us to common work. My relationship with Luke changed when we began working on projects together.
Focus on what you enjoy and appreciate, not what gets you frustrated.
Frustration is inevitable but keep your attention on what you enjoy and appreciate. It’s amazing how much our focus determines our perspective.
Give thanks for how someone different from you is helping you to grow.
People who are just like us rarely challenge us or stimulate us. However, those who are different from us tend to challenge and sharpen us. The person who drives you nuts may be helping you to get better than you’ve ever been.
Common ground transforms the most difficult relationships into ones we cannot imagine living without.