Along with delivering to our destinations, cars are useful in surprising ways. In a previous article, we detailed how driving a vehicle is great for creative thinking to get great ideas. Now, we discuss how a car is the best place for difficult conversations.
The side-by-side factor in a car makes difficult conversation easier
The next time you have to have a difficult conversation that you dread, invite the other person to go in a car with you. One of the reasons a car is a good atmosphere 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 facing each other. They make direct eye contact with a furious expression as they plead their case.
However, due to the natural layout of the seats in most cars, it is not possible to have this direct argument face to face with direct eye contact. Instead, cars have the side-by-side factor, which is much less confrontational.
Our brain is driven by animal instinct. Animals, including humans, use direct eye contact as a threat in confrontations. With that in mind, avoiding direct eye contact helps the other person feel like they’re not under attack.
Also, with no direct eye contact while sitting in a vehicle, there is less pressure to have a constant back and forth conversation. As a car moves along the road, both people can take their time and think carefully before responding.
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 because of the distraction of other activities – whether it’s driving or changing scenery. Having a conversation is a secondary activity to driving, so it’s less confrontational. As a result, the parties to the conversation may not be as defensive.
In an interview with Aviva, Allegra Salvoni, a psychotherapeutic counselor and therapeutic coach, explained this secondary activity technique in scientific terms.
He said: “It’s a technique that hypnotherapists use a lot. They give the central executive function—the part of the brain that operates on a conscious level—an easy task because our mind needs to be occupied with something. This leaves the rest of the brain free. Then we can unconsciously begin to understand our emotions and problem solve, which is a better state to be in when having a difficult conversation.”
Tips for having a productive conversation about a difficult situation while going for a drive
To get the most out of an attempt to have a productive conversation about a difficult situation, then follow some guidelines. For one, you or the other person must be a safe and experienced driver. Otherwise, driving can be too demanding to have a productive conversation. If necessary, you can park the car and talk.
Furthermore, the driving route itself should not be too demanding or distracting. You should avoid driving in a congested city center, areas with road construction, or anything that involves frequent stop-and-go traffic. To make driving feel safer, driving on a familiar road also helps.
One of the best types of drives for a good conversation is one that lasts with changes of scenery. “Have you ever been in a place where you’re in one mood, and then you’re in another place, and suddenly you feel different? Or do you work differently in the office than in your living room? This is the principle”, said Salvoni. He continued, “When we’re on the move, it creates a sense that we’re not stuck with the problem.”
Additionally, it’s helpful to prepare for the conversation before you get into the car. Think carefully and consider the issues you want to discuss. “The important thing to remember is that we are people who misunderstand each other and this dialogue is a way to connect your two realities,” said Salvoni.
Additional tips for positive and constructive conversations
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It’s also important to follow some guidelines that are important not only for difficult conversations in a car—but for challenging conversations in any kind of environment. This includes non-violent communication, active listening, taking time with responses and showing compassion for the other person. Also, don’t tell the other person what to do. Instead, it’s better to state the facts of the situation—and then follow it up by describing the impact it had on your needs and feelings.
Finally, you may want to temper any expectations of a quick resolution to the problem. Often, people need a few days to think and digest what was discussed. Use the car as a starting point to discuss a challenging situation – and then pick it up another time. Perhaps, this could be in your next talking machine.
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