What backseat drivers can teach us about communication | setting ground rules

by Betty Lochner on August 15, 2012

My husband thinks he’s a better driver than me.  So,  what does that make him? A terrible back seat driver.

For years, the routine  has been that  when I was driving he would pound his foot on the floor (to help me brake), scare me with words like “stop” or “watch out!” or advise me of how close I was away from the curb. the car, the dog, etc.  I would get mad, he would continue and we would both end up upset and frazzled.

Now, before he gets to be my passenger, we take the time to go over some ground rules.

Establishing ground rules in a conversation can be a powerful way to communicate clearly by making your expectations known ahead of time.  It gives some structure to help you with one of the most common communication mistakes we all make – not making our needs clear.  In the case of my backseat driver,  setting some ground rules helps me to be  clear right up front of what I need and expect.

And,  yes, it really does work.  In fact the odds of success are pretty great.  When you clearly state what you need and want, you are 70% more likely to get it!

My back seat ground rules usually go something like this (and don’t forget to be kind and respectful in your delivery):

1) You can only make scary noises or point if you truly believe our lives are in danger.

2) You can not reach out to take the steering wheel, or stomp your foot on the floor, again, unless you truly believe our lives are in danger.

Then, I clarify, more specifically what that looks like:

It means you can speak up if:

  1. I am really going to hit a car; not if a car is in the vicinity of our car, or you think I should give them more room.
  2. You truly don’t think I see an impending car crash.
Then, I add:  You may not speak up and point if you simply wish you could be driving or think you can do a better job.
After I’ve set my ground rules, I  make sure I was heard by saying something like “do you understand what I need from you?”   Then, add a sincere “thank you!”   Next, stick to your guns and give a gentle reminder of the ground rules if needed.  For me, one pull off to the side on the freeway to go back over them did the trick.
Setting ground rules for back seat driving has probably saved our marriage and quite possibly our lives.
  • Take the time to clearly state what you want and expect to have happen.
  • Then follow-up with a check for understanding.

Be careful out there and make your expectations clear!

Cornerstone Coaching & Training

Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. And, it’s now available on Kindle! Check it out.

To find out more about Cornerstone’s services and offerings visit our website: http://www.cornerstone-ct.com




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