Driving Communication Styles Home

I drive a long distance to my job. It’s 30 miles each way, every day. Yes, bleck. Further, this drive is in the vicinity of one of the larger metropolis areas of the United States. So there are a lot of people on the road. A lot of different sorts of people.

And these people and their driving got me to thinking.

Two Sorts of Drivers

It has struck me – since I recently started paying attention – that there are really two main groupings of drivers.

1 – Those who care only about how quickly they can get from point A to point B.

2 – Those who realize we’re all on this road together.

The folks who fall into the first category are the ones who go as fast as the laws of physics (and their engines) will allow, crawling up the tailpipe of anyone blocking their way. They zip in and out of lanes – with millimeters to spare between their bumper and the bumper of the cars around them, passing on whichever side they perceive as being clear enough to get around the person in front of them.

When there is a merge, they don’t let anyone in. When they are merging, they will force you into an emergency stop so they can push their way into traffic.

They invented what I call the “Boston Left Hand Turn”*. They also have no qualms about making right hand turns from the left hand lane (or visa versa).

These folks use their horn a lot and their middle finger even more.

*The Boston Left Hand Turn (think US driving here folks) is when you want to make a left hand turn, and pull out into the near lane, blocking it, until someone in the far lane stops and lets you in so you quit blocking the other lane of traffic. Yes, this happens a lot in Boston, but I’ve seen it other places too.

The folks who fall in the second category may well be just as anxious to reach a given destination as those in the first category, but they approach the whole driving thing in a very different way.

While it may not be conscious, they “get” that everyone on the road is trying to get somewhere, and if we all work at this driving thing together, we’ll all make it in one piece.

These are the folks who pass in the correct passing lane (unless there’s an entirely clueless person blocking that lane forever). They may drive fast, but never so fast that they’re in danger of beginning a low altitude flight.

They make sure they can actually see the car(s) behind them in a mirror before jumping in front of someone, and they don’t force their way into lanes just because they can.

These folks, when faced with a merge situation, will slow down or speed up to facilitate the cars merging with them. And when they’re merging they will get into traffic in such a way so as to not endanger lives.

In short, this second group works with the drivers around them to keep things moving and safe.

But what does this have to do with communication?

Well, given that I have such a long drive, I see lots of each category of people every day. The saddest days are when someone from category 1 misjudges something and ends up killing themselves and/or someone from category 2 (I’ve seen both first hand).

But as I thought more about it, I realized that the way people communicate broadly fit into these two categories as well.

Category 1

When these folks communicate, they have an end point in mind. Diversions from this end point are a waste of their time and so they constantly pull back the focus of the conversation to their perceived path of their desired end point.

You often find that conversations with these folks are about them and their stories. Any stories you tell them are really a means for them to tell you their own version of the same story-type.

They often talk fast, and rather than spending time listening, they’re really just waiting for you to stop talking so they can talk.

Category 2

When these folks communicate, they’re working to make sure that the message they want to give is being received in the clearest possible way by everyone else involved. They strive for clarity and want to use communication as a means of getting things done, expressing an opinion or desire, or being with others more fully.

They love to collect the stories of others, because this enriches their own experience of the world. They often also love to tell stories, but as a way of giving to others as they have received.

They will often listen more than they speak, but aren’t necessarily afraid to share their opinions.

No, this isn’t perfect…

…but it’s not meant to be. These are just broad categories.

Now I have no doubt that it’s obvious which sort of driver and which sort of communicator I think is more desirable.

I despise the drivers who force me to slam on my brakes because they just had to force their way into a space that wasn’t big enough for their vehicle. Likewise, I struggle mightily communicating with people whose only focus is themselves and their needs.

In the case of the former I am ashamed to admit that once such driver who nearly clipped me caused a major accident a few miles later. My shame comes from the fact that I had a “well you deserved it, asshole” moment when I saw his car flipped over.

In the case of the latter, I am equally ashamed to admit that I end up not taking these folks seriously. I quit listening to them. And that really just means I’ve become like them and well, that’s not a good thing.

The Point

The point is that we can make choices in how we drive and how we communicate. And those choices have tangible effects on people around us. Sometimes these effects are literally life-and-death (though more with driving than with communication).

What choice will you make?

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