My father, the Late Mr. J Gowrikanthan, or “JG” as he was known, was the first role model I had in my life, and still is the person I aspire to be. My decision to become a coach was primarily based on my observations of the number of people he helped, in more ways than one.
He told me, when I started driving a car, “Srinivasa (he was one of 3 people who call me that,) remember that when you are the driver, every person traveling in the car must feel they are in control of their journey. It is not enough if you, as the driver, feel that you have control, and are driving safely and appropriately, or that you are doing the right things. Each person traveling in the vehicle must feel in control, and feel safe throughout the journey!”
Each person traveling in the vehicle must feel in control, and feel safe throughout the journey!
And the thought that might come to one’s mind as soon as that is read, is that my father expected that the car should be driven extremely slowly. Far from it. He would always travel sitting in the co-passenger seat next to the driver – which was the ONLY seat he would occupy – and sometimes actually insist that I drive faster.
He would always be awake (thanks to an accident during a road trip when he was much younger, when the driver went to sleep and caused the car to turn turtle!) and be aware of everything on the road. Including motioning with his hands whenever there was habitation, or any other thing that needed the driver to be aware, and take appropriate action.
He would insist that the car not jerk forward when I changed gears. For those of you who have not driven the Hindustan Ambassador and Premier Padmini Cars, you would not understand that this WAS a feat. It is another matter however that even in today’s technologically advanced vehicles, there are quite a few who make the vehicle jump forward whilst changing gears.
I always was to ensure that the brakes were applied smoothly and that there was no jerking when the vehicle came to a complete stop. He would also insist that the passengers in the car should not be thrown about when it turned, even the sharpest of curves. And of course, it goes without saying that going over bumps and road humps had to be negotiated quite nicely. This meant that over time, I learnt the trick of being able to take the bumps without really slowing down too much, and of course taking curves at the appropriate speed, and sticking to the lane that I was supposed to.
I was also to look out for others’ mistakes on the road. That it was not enough if I was a safe driver myself, I also had to provide for others making mistakes. And driving in India, well, there are enough and more opportunities for others’ mistakes to take place. However, all of this meant that I did become a decent and reasonable driver, and more importantly one whom passengers felt safe to travel with.
During a recent road trip with a friend, we were talking on this subject. I made a remark that he had probably started driving in the USA where he used to visit, than in India. He asked me how I could come up with that observation, which turned out to be true. I said that the styles of driving were quite dissimilar in India and in the USA. And the very small things about one’s driving would give that information. I digress, and let me get back to the theme I started with.
Living life, in a family, is very much like driving a car. Being a leader, or a manager, is like driving a car. It’s not enough if the driver (Head of the family, or the business, or team, or division) alone feels in control. Everyone in the car (family, business, team, division) should feel in control and more importantly safe. If you think otherwise, just think about a time that you were traveling in a vehicle that was driven by someone who made you feel uncomfortable. It’s not just about being in control. It’s about giving others comfort and confidence as well.
Living life, in a family, is very much like driving a car. Being a leader, or a manager, is like driving a car. It’s not just about being in control. It’s about giving others comfort and confidence as well.
And what is the reason for everyone needing to feel in control? Well, when one is not in control, they are apprehensive, anxious, and sometimes, afraid. It is like walking on thin ice, or on a slippery floor. Self-preservation takes over and this goes back to the most basic and primal fear – of dying! While traveling in a car, this might apply to physical injury or even death. And in other situations and circumstances, it applies to the death of one’s ideas, thoughts, or suggestions.
Research shows that a mental injuries or “slights” cause as much “pain” as a physical injury does. The part of the brain that gets triggered when an animal attacks a person, is the same part that gets triggered when the person THINKS of the animal attacking them! The brain does not differentiate between “real” and “imagined” threats. The biochemical reaction to real and perceived threats is exactly the same!
The part of the brain that gets triggered when an animal attacks a person, is the same part that gets triggered when the person THINKS of the animal attacking them! The brain does not differentiate between “real” and “imagined” threats. The biochemical reaction to real and perceived threats is exactly the same!
How does one make others feel safe, comfortable and “in control?” Well, it is rather simple – to be aware, and attentive to others’ needs and situations. And the simple fact of telling people that one is aware, and then asking if the others are comfortable, and making appropriate changes, is the easiest and simplest way to make others feel comfortable. And to top it all, others then are also aware that they, their thoughts and feelings matter. This has far reaching beneficial effects.
Whilst driving a car, pay attention to how the passengers are. Are they tense and worried? Are they also applying the brake before the driver does? And yes, periodically, asking if the other passengers are comfortable goes a long way. And making it safe for them to speak the truth, and share how they are feeling is very important as well. (This is the topic of another article that is also in the works of “Parenting with openness and trust!”)
Being open, and communicating with others, and observing the non-verbal cues and information that they give is vital. In the book, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain,” Dr. Richard Davidson refers to 6 “Emotional Traits” that characterise every human being. Two of the traits that are mentioned are “Social awareness” and “Sensitivity to context.” Developing these two traits, will go a long way in helping oneself feel comfortable, and also help others feel comfortable.
And yes, it is possible to develop these traits and have them at an appropriate level, specific to the situations and the people involved. And alleviating their fears and concerns, to the best extent possible, will go a long way in helping them and oneself live and perform better.
This applies more so in the areas of start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures. Those working in the company, who could be termed as the passengers, might not have the same level of information about the journey. And the driver, or the entrepreneur, or the founder, might need to give them the comfort that things are safe, and progressing well. Take the time, to study the verbal and non-verbal cues, and to ensure that fears are assuaged to the best extent possible, and help others feel safe, and to perform to the best of their ability.
Disclaimer: Making others feel safe in an organization or in life even, does not mean that inappropriate behaviour goes unnoticed or is condoned. Such inappropriate behaviour, has to be taken care of, just like a passenger in the car who acts in an inappropriate manner. Passengers cannot always be “back seat drivers” who are second guessing the driver. The passengers also ought not to cause harm or come in the way of the driver performing their duty appropriately. Passengers cannot also cause harm to other passengers, in the vehicle. In such cases, considering the safety of the driver, the car and the other passengers, such unruly passengers must be chastised, and dealt with appropriately. The dealing with appropriately will vary depending on the situation and the circumstances, and might also include eviction from the vehicle.
So, what can one learn from all this? Well, wherever you are the driver, ensure that others, your passengers, feel safe and comfortable. Solicit feedback actively, and look for verbal and nonverbal cues and make changes to your behaviour appropriately. Where you are the passenger, ensure that you give appropriate feedback and inputs to the driver, to help them get to the destination, and in the greatest safety and comfort possible. Where you are the observer, ensure that you convey your thoughts to both the driver(s) and the passenger(s) on your observations. And yes, ensure that each feels most comfortable and safe during the journey.
Stay happy, stay blessed, stay safe!