Along with getting us to our destinations, cars are beneficial in surprising ways. In a previous article, we detailed how driving creative thinking is great for getting great ideas. Now, we discuss how the car is the best place to have a difficult conversation.
The side-by-side factor in the car makes difficult conversations easier
The next time you need to have a dreaded conversation, invite the other person to go for a drive with you. One of the reasons a car is a great environment for difficult conversations is the “side-by-side” factor.
Imagine a heated argument in your mind. You probably conjure up an image of two people sitting or standing opposite each other. They make direct eye contact with expressions of anger as they plead their case.
However, due to the natural seating layout in most cars, it is not possible to have a direct face-to-face argument with direct eye contact. Instead, cars have a side-by-side aspect ratio, which is much less collision-prone.
Our brain is triggered by animal instincts. Animals, including humans, use direct eye contact as a threat in confrontation. With this in mind, avoiding direct eye contact can help make the other person feel like they are under attack.
Plus, there’s less pressure to constantly chat back and forth, without direct eye contact, when sitting in a car. When driving a car on the road, both people can take their time and think carefully before reacting.
A car ride is conducive to a less confrontational conversation due to the distraction of other activities
Another reason why a car ride is the best place for difficult conversations is the distraction of other activities – whether it’s driving or a change of scenery. Chatting is a secondary activity to driving, so it’s less confrontational. As a result, parties to the conversation may not be defensive.
In an interview with Aviva, Allegra Salvoni, a psychotherapist consultant therapeutic coach, explained the technique of this secondary activity in scientific terms.
He said, “This is a technique that hypnotherapists use a lot. They make central executive function—the part of the brain that operates on a conscious level—an easier task because our brains need to be occupied with something. This leaves the rest of the brain empty. Then we can subconsciously begin to understand our feelings and problem solve, which is a good situation to be in when you’re having a difficult conversation.”
Tips for having a productive conversation about a difficult situation while going for a car drive
To maximize your drive to have a productive conversation about a difficult situation, then follow some guidelines. For one, you or the other person needs to be a confident and experienced driver. Otherwise, driving to have a productive chat can be too demanding. If necessary, you can park the car and talk.
Additionally, the driving route itself should not be too demanding or distracting. You should avoid driving in congested city centers, areas with road construction, or anywhere that involves frequent stop-and-start traffic. Driving a familiar route also helps to make the car ride feel safer.
One of the best types of drives for good conversation is one that is long with changes of scenery. “Have you ever been in one place where you’re in one mood, and then you’re in another place, and you suddenly feel different? Or do you do things differently in the office than in your living room? That’s the principle,” Salvoni said. He continued, “When we’re on the move, it creates the feeling that we’re not stuck with the problem.”
Moreover, it is useful to prepare for the conversation before going for a car drive. Think carefully and consider the issues you want to discuss. “The important thing to remember is that we are human beings who misunderstand each other, and this dialogue is a way of bridging your two realities,” Salvoni said.
More tips for positive and constructive conversations
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It’s also important to follow some guidelines that are appropriate not just for difficult conversations in the car – but for challenging conversations in any type of environment. These include nonviolent communication, active listening, taking your time with responses, and showing compassion for the other person. Also, don’t tell the other person what they should do. Instead, it’s better to state the facts of the situation – and then follow it up by describing the impact on your needs and feelings.
Finally, you’ll want to celebrate any expectations for a quick resolution to the problem. Often, people need several days to think and digest what is discussed. Use the car drive as a starting point to discuss a challenging situation – and then bring it up another time. Maybe, that will be your next conversation on the car drive.
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