Monday, 22 April 2013

What driving taught me about how I think about other people.

As I drove around Melbourne today - in the rain - I contemplated how the behaviour of people on the roads completely changes in Melbourne if it rains.  Or if it's really hot.  Or cold.  Or windy.  It's bizarre.  I also thought about how I can be the best driver on the road, but that isn't the whole story. There is a bunch of other people also driving around.  The whole system relies on every single driver obeying the rules and doing their best with an intention to reach their destination safely.

I have an on again/ off again relationship with rules.  On one hand I've often been in positions where my role has been to enforce rules.   I was the senior boarder prefect at school.  I got my own room and a special pocket on my blazer so it was totally worth it.  I was a union official where my whole world revolved around negotiating rules and then ensuring that the rules were followed.  At one stage I was president and in charge of rules at meetings.  On the other hand, my creative nature sees me push the boundaries.  When problems arise I often pay no regard to the rules when I'm exploring potential solutions.

On the wall near my front door I have a message to myself which says in part: "Tear up their rules.  Run your own race."

As I've rearranged my life I find I'm more able to live in a way that is more aligned with my true nature.    But then I'm driving.  One of the things I had to do today was turn right at a set of traffic lights.  The traffic lights gave me a green arrow and I just turned right without even thinking.  As I straightened up, it occurred to me that I can only turn right on the green arrow safely because everyone else on the road was obeying their red lights.  While I'm driving I trust and expect that everyone is doing their best to follow the rules. I have to operate like this or I can't drive anywhere.

This experience today highlighted one of the things I often discuss with clients.  I hear many people talk about the problem people in their team or in their business in a negative way:  "they aren't motivated to do well", "they just turn up for the money", "they're not really there for the business."  When I hear these descriptions I have a conversation which finishes with a question.  "What would it mean for your relationship with that person if you accepted that they're trying to do their best?  What would happen if that was the lens you saw them through?"

I realised today that driving on the roads - especially in the city with lots of other people - is a living example of this idea.  The fundamental starting point needs to be that everyone is doing their best driving to get from A to B without incident.  JUST LIKE YOU.

Have you ever tried to drive where there's a back seat driver in the car?  I remember driving my grandparents around on the Gold Coast not  long after I got my first car.  My Grandfather was sitting in the back taking in the scenery.  My Granny was sitting beside me telling me everything I should be doing and not doing as I drove the car.  Within five minutes, I was a nervous wreck.  I remember pulling the car over and saying that I couldn't drive them safely with Granny critiquing everything I did. She needed to trust me that my intention was to get us all safely to where we were going. I was also in my new car which I didn't want to smash. I detected silent applause from my Grandfather in the back (we met eyes in the rear vision mirror) and Granny said nothing else for the entire trip.  She sat very upright, clutching her seatbelt, but she said nothing.  Being assertive was the best thing I could do for the safety of everyone in the car.

As you go out in the world what do you expect from people?  How do you see them?  Are you expecting and trusting them to do what's needed? or are you waiting for them to trip up?  Are you the back seat driver sucking the confidence out of people as you micro manage and second guess everything they do?

You can make a conscious decision to trust.  Try it next time you're driving.  Imagine how hard it would be to get around if you didn't trust others to obey the rules and do the right thing.  Then think about how you can change your view and focus on the things that can really help and empower the people around you.

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