Author / business / leadership

Signalling and Communication

I drive about an hour to and from work every day. I don’t mind the commute, it gives me time to listen to the news, sing to some tunes, and reflect on what’s coming up or how the day went. I have noticed a growing trend of people not signalling when making turns or changing lanes. This is happening in our communication with others, as I will explain later on.

At a traffic light in a left-hand turn lane, we all know that the car ahead of us will be making the turn so perhaps there it is not such a big deal (even though it’s illegal). What really bugs me is when somebody makes a right turn all of a sudden or swerves into my lane. This is where I get worked up and start muttering to myself. More importantly, this is how accidents happen as we are not always paying attention but we also have no idea of what the other driver is thinking. I always want to yell out the window and tell them to signal, but that’s not worth the trouble.

A similar trend can be found in our interpersonal communication as a shockingly high number of us, myself included, have difficulty in being assertive and setting limits. The difficulty with this is that others do not know we are getting frustrated or angry and so they do not change their behaviour.

There’s a concept called the “conflict continuum”, which was phrased by Quaker sociologist Elise Boulding who was influenced by the events of World War II. In it’s simplest form, it states that a situation will escalate if solutions are not found, resulting in a war that will eventually lead to a cooling down and resolution. This has been expanded by Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Bringing this back to our communication, the first time somebody does something we don’t like, we let it slide to avoid the conflict. We hope that it was a one time thing or that they will change, which is insane as no one changes without a reason.  Instead of having a really easy conversation, we keep putting our frustrations into our backpack, letting the behaviour continue until we can’t take it anymore and we explode (or crash to pull it back to cars), throwing this backpack of pent up anger at them. Not surprisingly, they are taken by complete surprise, become highly defensive, and the conversation becomes awkward and often a fight.


How much easier would it be if we signalled our frustrations the first time it happened? Alright, maybe the second time as it could have been a fluke occurrence (although unlikely). Instead of having all this built up anger and becoming jaded, we could have simply brought it to their attention and moved on! All we need to do is signal, and others will respond.

To be able to do this, we need to be assertive and phrase our communication from the “Adult” ego state (for more on ego states, click here). The Adult allows us to be rational in our communication, unlike if we came from our “Angry Child”, who would snap “Stop doing that!”. A simple “I’m finding it hard to focus, would you mind not doing that?” might be tough to say and may momentarily upset the other person, but better to do it now and have an hour of uncomfortable silence than the explosion and fight that is bound to happen down the road that could end a relationship, personal or otherwise.

I try on a daily basis to signal my frustrations and share this with others. I despise conflict and my Nurturing Parent wants to avoid the conflict and maintain the relationship and I worry that me raising the issue will hurt the other persons feelings.  It takes effort to be assertive and take action, but it will save you energy and friends down the road.

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