Why relationships are nothing like driving your car

If I want to take a fabulous road trip back to my hometown of Philadelphia, fundamentally I’d decide when I wanted to leave and arrive, I’d map out the route, plan the stops, pack, get in the driver’s seat, start the car and drive.  I’d go straight when I wanted to go straight, turn right when I wanted to turn right, stay on my route, get out to stretch whenever I felt like.   I’d follow my plan, drive as fast, or as slow, as I liked … and I’d eventually get to Philadelphia.  If I were by myself, there wouldn’t be any conflict.  I’d get the outcome I wanted, the way I wanted it, when I wanted it.

Relationships aren’t like that.

Relationships aren’t even like having a passenger in the car. Any relationship you have, whether at work or in your personal life, is like driving a dual-control car. You’re in the same car, but the other person also has their own steering wheel they can turn, and their own full set of controls, including a gas pedal that can accelerate the car anytime, not to mention a set of brakes.  Two people controlling 1 car.

With dual controls, you're going to have a serious problem if the other person turns right while you're turning left, or if they put their foot down on the brake while yours is hard on the gas pedal.

In a car this seems obvious, but in personal and professional relationships I often see two people simultaneously trying to control where the “car” is going and this creates endless difficulty.  I see them struggle for control, or one just gives up in frustration and lets the other take the wheel.  Not a recipe for happiness.  Bad road trip. 

Managing any relationship is like managing a dual-control car.  First of all, it's probably a good idea to agree on the destination. If I want to go to Philadelphia and the other person wants to just cruise up and down California’s coast Highway 1, one is east, the other’s west, we're going to continuously steer in different directions, making the car look crazy, going all over the road.  And there’s one thing that’s certain. Neither are we going to get to Philadelphia, nor are we going to have a nice cruise along the coast down Highway 1.  I’ve seen many personal relationships that look like this, but also many that my clients have at work in large corporations.

And if you think about working on a team or with a group, it can get even crazier the more people are involved controlling the 1 car.  If you don’t all agree on exactly where you want to end up, you can get stuck in places no one wanted.  Not to mention when trust is missing and you’re not looking, they can step on the brakes or turn the wheel – and suddenly you find yourself on a strange road and you don’t know how you got there or how to get out.

It's amazing how things smooth out once you agree on the destination. So this is a skill it's really handy to have:  the ability to get anyone, in any situation, under any circumstance, to come to an agreement with you regarding the destination. Of course, that's just the beginning, but without this beginning you may never even make it out of the driveway.

Let me give you a real example.  I had a client who was trying to negotiate a partnership between his large corporation and another one.   Both stuck in their ways.  They were so busy arguing about what the other side should give them, they didn’t realize they hadn't really agreed whether they both even wanted a partnership.  The whole thing was coming across like something my client was trying to “force down their throats”.  So, he backed the discussions away from the areas of conflict and got them both to discuss, and then agree, they actually did want a partnership, that it should be a real partnership where 1+1 was much greater than 2, that both organizations should benefit tremendously.  It sounds simple, but it took a couple of skillfully conducted meetings just to get to that agreement to even have a partnership. But once that agreement was solidly in place, everything else proceeded smoothly, additional agreements happened rather rapidly and their partnership was announced in the news.

So, the first question to ask when you’re in this dual-controlled car is – what’s the destination we both/all fully agree on and can commit to?   And then use your skills to make that agreement and commitment real.

By the way, I did several fabulous road trips from Philadelphia to California, where I now live. America is stunning.   Took my time, 3 months.   Appalachian Mountains, Mississippi River, Kansas cornfields, Rocky Mountains, magical New Mexico, Utah’s Lake Powell, Grand Canyon, and up the incomparable California coast Highway 1.  When you do a trip like this, you really have to get along well with anyone in the car with you!

Wishing you good travels and relationships on your journey!

Ingrid