ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
I carpool with a neighbor to get my two children and hers to and from school. She is an acquaintance and not a close friend. I like her and our relationship is positive.
Since the beginning of the school year, my children have expressed a concern about the way she drives. Recently, they began bringing it up every day. They tell me stories about how they were “almost in an accident,” and that she pulls out in front of other cars for “close calls,” and is often doing things with her three-year-old while driving. I have known this neighbor for three years, and I am not aware that she has been in any accidents. I have noticed her driving above the speed limit in the neighborhood on occasion. Because my children mention this on a regular basis, I am concerned for their safety.
I am not sure how to approach this topic with my neighbor because I don’t know for sure what’s happening. I don’t want to hurt her feelings or jeopardize our carpool arrangement. I want to bring awareness to her in a way where she is not put on the defensive, but my facts are few. Can you please help me in my approach?
Driving Me to Worry
This is a tough one. I could give you some advice about how to bring up the issue in a way that would be gracious but candid. However, I’m not sure you should.
In Crucial Confrontations we talk at length about ensuring you have “the right conversation.” We suggest that there are content, pattern, and relationship conversations. The difference between the three is sometimes how long the problem has been going on. But there are special cases in which a “relationship” conversation may be the place you begin, not what you progress toward. And I think this may be such a case. (See What and If in our online glossary.)
Relationship conversations are those where your concerns are significant enough that you may need to change—or terminate—a relationship. For example, let’s say you have a coworker who is chronically unreliable and whose failure to perform puts your ability to meet your goals at risk. You’ve spoken with him about performance failures. Then you spoke with him about the pattern of performance failures. However, the problems have continued. Now what? You need to talk to him about the need to restructure the relationship. You must draw a line where you take responsibility for your own needs and refuse to put your commitments at risk by relying on him again. Hold this conversation respectfully—creating safety and using all your best dialogue skills—but be sure you hold the relationship conversation.
There are times when the first conversation you need to have is a relationship conversation. For example, when a) the likelihood the person will change after your crucial conversation is low; and b) the risk of bad consequences to you if they don’t change is high. In my view, driving habits are something people have to work pretty hard to change. I believe this, in part, because I am an impatient driver. I work on it for stretches, then become neglectful, and, frankly, drive inappropriately at times. The way people drive is so much an expression of their disposition that it takes quite a commitment and long term vigilance to reshape their habits. This is rarely the work of a single crucial conversation.
That being the case, you have to ask yourself two questions:
How confident am I that she is putting my children at risk?
Am I willing to allow this level of risk for the convenience of the carpool?
In essence, you’ve got to ask, “What do I really want?”
Because the likelihood of fundamentally altering her driving habits is low unless you can inspect her behavior in the future yourself, I would discourage you from talking to her in an attempt to change her driving. Instead, you should talk to yourself, decide what you really want, then either change or accept the current situation.
I wish you the best in this important decision.