Step on the accelerator

I love driving especially when the route is scenic or covers territory I have not seen before.  For me driving is not about the speed but about the freedom you have to go anywhere you want at any time.   

One of my goals is to have a two door convertible sports car.  I currently do not have such a car because 1) it can’t fit my kids in the back and 2) I am unable to reconcile the blatant waste of petrol and impact on the environment.

So I make the most of my driving when I have to go somewhere.  I never worry about the distance or time. I put the windows down or hook up the Ipod with an audio book or podcast and just go. 

Driving is communication

So it was while traveling across the city the other day that I realised driving to me is like communication.

First of all there are the gears.  Whether in a manual or automatic you have to switch gears depending on the location, lay of the land, weather conditions, speed limits etc.  We also don’t know where a conversation might go and at the same time have the freedom to choose the direction. 

Speed of communication

When thinking about communication I equate the gears in a car to the levels of a conversation.

0 – Neutral - Fear
When in neutral we are not communicating.  We may be aware of the other person’s presence or existence but choose not to engage for whatever reason.  There is no exchange of eye contact, verbal communication or touch.

1 – First gear - Safety
When in first gear we are communicating at a superficial level. We stick with the easy topics like weather, what you did on the weekend etc. we play it safe and avoid taboo topics like politics and religion.  The result is no emotional investment, no risk. We exchange information at a safe and superficial level. 

2 – Second gear - Sharing
When in second gear We start to share, explore and ask questions about the surface level dialogue.  For example we might enquire why a person chose to travel to the beach on a weekend when it rained. We might tell or ask more for the story or an explanation about why something happened.  The result is that people begin to open up, share details.

3 – Third gear - Disclosure
When in third gear we go deeper.  We might choose a particular point made in the conversation and ask a series of questions. We also are likely to self disclose more intimate details about our feelings, thoughts, attitudes and beliefs.  This is the stage where we start to build trust. 

4 – Fourth gear - Real
When in fourth gear we get real. Here we cover the spectrum of weaknesses to strengths.  We are able to handle the uncomfortable moments, assert points that may be controversial and go through a breadth of topics we normally would not cover.

5 – Fifth gear - Risk
When in fifth gear we risk it all. We are comfortable with who we are and therefore communicate honestly and authentically. What this means is we say what we need to say when we need to say it. We are also highly tuned in to the other person’s experience, intuitively read where they are at and response accordingly. We are in sync.

Red light, green light

The presumption of the above model is that we all should aim to get to fifth level.  Yes and no.  Knowing when to go and when to slow down are equally important. So this is when the stoplight comes in.  Throughout a conversation I apply the analogy of a stoplight to whether I go further or not. 


I first stop and check on the situation. Things I may consider whether consciously or unconsciously are:
-  my own capacity to handle the conversation at greater depth
-  the capacity of the other person right now to handle greater depth
-  the location and environment where we are having the conversation
-  physical, mental and emotional states we each are in
-  why I need to go further or want to go further in the conversation.


Then I test out by going where I think I should go.  In this step I will change the revolutions enough to switch into the next gear. So for example if I have talked about all the nice things that are safe and easy  I will throw in an exploratory question and see where it goes. If it catches then I keep going. If not I need a bit more safe conversation.


When the signs all point to the next level I go there. When we go there it is all about the conversation we are in at the very moment. We are fully focused on the other person. We monitor all indicators.

Fifth level is fast

Yes, when we stay at fifth level we really go there. The outcome of such conversations is that we fast track our understanding, learning and connection to another person. We get rid of baggage, clear the air, really get to what is important.  We need to focus in this gear and stay in the conversation.

Because fifth level is so intense it is also not a level to stay at all the time.  In fact some people we may never get to that level.  However it doesn’t mean we don’t try.

So why bother?

When we stay at the lower gears we also don’t travel very far in our learnings, experiences and growth. We stay who we are – warts and all! We miss out on the opportunity to gain new perspective, learn from others and really understand that others are in fact just like us not so different after all.  And where they are different, these differences offer us great ways of seeing the world through other people's eyes.

So consider what kind of communicator you are. Assess the speed you like to travel at and whether you stay stuck or go there.

Let's go there...