This week my cantankerous seat belt safety catch and small son taught me something invaluable. I am seriously grateful to car designers for all the mad tweaks to things for safety’s sake BUT sometimes the self-locking mechanism prevents me from actually buckling my kid in. So we made two car trips with him buckled up beside me and the passenger seat novelty transformed him! Instead of quietly sitting in the backseat, gazing out the window or responding laconically to my standard questions about his day, the proximity to me prompted non-stop conversation! I was regaled, from start to finish. It actually made me wonder what I’m missing. The mechanism is fixed and now I am literally missing him up front.
After years of generally studying how to manage groups and connectivity with people by how closely you physically work with them, I realised it’s happening closer to home (or not, in fact). My son is more likely to chat easily when he is beside me, not behind me and separated by seat, distance and lines of sight. The first/second, chauffeur/passenger, calling gunshot rules are all at play here and impacting how much or how I communicate with my own family, every day.
Think about where you like to sit in a taxi – beside or behind the driver? And do you chat or not, or scroll through your phone? Even your silence is sending messages. We know body language speaks volumes when sitting on a bus or train, standing in a lift, or via the seat you take in a meeting. I deliberately engage people in foyers, lifts and stairwells before events because it breaks the ice more easily and naturally than once we’re inside.
So now think about your family in the car and how it works. Who always drives, who’s silent and who isn’t? I challenge you to mix it up to see if your communication alters, either naturally or prompted. My accidental experiment demonstrated that a child can unthinkingly change our patterns; imagine what deliberate intervention could do?
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