“Shared experiences, particularly those that are especially meaningful to us, create trust, teamwork and community.”— Misti Burmeister

I’ve always wanted to serve food at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving, but on the rare occasions I haven’t been traveling during the holidays, my local soup kitchen already had more volunteers than they needed.

Knowing I would be out of town again this year, I reached out to my friend, Sally. Together, we hatched a plan to cook dinner for Don, a Vietnam vet who lives in her storage facility, and Charles, another Vietnam vet who did some renovations on my new home.

We set a date, asked them both to join us for dinner, and began preparing our menu. I was so excited about having the opportunity to connect with and give back to these two heroes. And I couldn’t wait to hear their stories.

Just before Charles arrived, Don handed me a rock and said, “It’s one of my nicest diamonds.”

Without hesitation, I examined it, told him it was beautiful, and asked where he found it. I didn’t care that it wasn’t a real diamond. I was just glad he got to feel good about giving me a gift.

During dinner, Charles and Don bonded over their war stories. They shared their own harrowing experiences at the Ho Chi Minh Trail and talked about how dangerous it was. Don said that once his boots were on the ground, his life expectancy was 16 seconds.

Sixteen seconds?! These men were walking miracles, no doubt.

Just before dessert, Charles asked Don what he does for a living. “I sell gold and diamonds,” Don said.

Don reached into his pocket and pulled out something wrapped in aluminum foil. As he opened the foil, Charles waited in anticipation to see what was inside (the rest of us already knew).

When Don pulled out the “diamonds,” we all oohed and aahed at his precious gems – except for Charles, who took one look and said, “Dude, those are river rocks!”

I held my breath, waiting for Don’s reaction and wishing Charles had played along so Don wouldn’t feel like a crazy person.

Interestingly, Don never disagreed with Charles. He simply admired his diamonds for a few more seconds and then passed them around the table.

Later that night, as I reflected on the evening, I kept thinking about how effortless it was for Charles to speak the truth. I wondered why Don didn’t disagree with Charles and insist his rocks were diamonds.

It was as if those two men had an unspoken agreement to be real. Both of them had shared several hard stories about the impact the war had on their lives. Those shared experiences connected them.

When we find common ground with others – those we lead or those we serve – we create bonds that enable us to work together more closely and effectively. Shared experiences, particularly those that are especially meaningful to us, create trust, teamwork and community.

Join the Conversation: What shared experiences give you the courage and ability to speak the truth – to be real with your colleagues, your team, and your customers?