When Road Rage Goes Good

Picture the scene. You are in the last three miles of your journey home, a little tired but feeling good after a great day out learning new things.

You pull out of a junction to find, in a lapse of concentration, the gap you’ve driven into is closing as a car has appeared from nowhere.

The solution? Apply that right foot and get out of danger.

One of my well-used excuses for having powerful motorcars is exactly for these rare occasions where speed IS a safety feature.

So now safely in the traffic the guy behind has not even had to brake but I am a little close to the guy in front. Close enough in fact to lip-read exactly what he calls me in his rear view mirror. Not happy with him questioning my legitimacy I do exactly what I shouldn’t, which is to engage with the man using gestures of disbelief and to stay close enough to witness the increasing variety of hand signals from inside his car.

Internal dialogue going crazy

This continues for about a mile, then relief – the turn into our village appears on the right. I relax. Sadly he indicates right, I pull way back to avoid any further eye contact and am now dreading that he is a neighbour that I have not met before. Luckily he drives past my turn and I head down the lane into my drive, park up and start unpacking my car.

Suddenly I hear it – first the car horn then the “Oy you!” shouted from the car. He has spotted where I turned into and turned his car around and found where I live! The combination of my ‘Red’ challenging style and this guy’s current state is really not a good combination, despite my internal dialogue going crazy.

At this point I suddenly have a rare case of personal calm. I walk up to the passenger window and am met with a torrent of verbal abuse including a range of swear words and assumptions about my personality because I have a ‘flash’ car.  I wait and take it, trying to appear neither submissive nor confrontational. I then break his state by asking him if he is the guy that I pulled out behind – he has to say ‘yes’. I asked him if I was the reason he was so agitated and again he says ‘yes’. The verbal abuse stops but I get an impassioned and detailed explanation of how dangerous it is carrying gardening equipment in the back of a car because if he had to brake really hard it could all come forward and really hurt someone. He also added a personal story about a niece who was nearly killed in a similar scenario. Because I was managing myself quite well at this point I did not listen to my internal dialogue, which was pointing out to him that as I was behind him I could not cause him to brake and perhaps securing dangerous tools in his car might be a solution. Something told me that a Green, logical statement of facts was not going to help here.

Time to connect!

Having listened to his story I told him mine, covering how I had made a poor judgment at the junction which was compounded by another car appearing and that as I was responsible for him getting so wound up that I was really sorry. As the energy dropped further he then told me that his Dad was a motorcyclist and it’s other drivers that cause accidents. Time to connect! I informed him that I also ride and even though riding bikes tends to make you more aware of what goes on around you, we are all capable of making mistakes when out on the road. I emphasised the ‘we are all’ and apologised again, saying he happened to have met me when I was having one of those days.

At this point he then informs me that he has had a terrible day and that is why he is wound up. I tell him that I am glad (where did that come from?!) that he followed me home and sorted it out as I would have continued thinking about it and would have ruined my evening.

“How are you feeling now?” I asked.
“Better,” he replied.
“Great! So we’d both better get home?”
“Yep, cheers mate!”

I’m left standing in the drive slightly shaking, but just amazed at how a potentially very bad situation was averted.

So what made the difference?

1.  Presence of mind – I caught myself before I went down my natural challenging style
2.  He was allowed to speak and get stuff of his chest
3.  His energy and level of detail were matched at two levels (Red and Green)
4.  I apologised – he clearly thought he was the victim so was looking for an apology. If you are thinking “why should I apologise if it was not my fault”, think carefully about the language I used. I apologised for upsetting him, not for anything to do with the road manners. This allowed me to apologise genuinely. However a general rule phrase like “I am sorry” or “I didn’t realise” tends to take the energy down a couple of notches
5.  Rapport building came in right at the end.

If I was not aware of the impact of my Conflict Style on others and hadn’t been able to take a different direction things would have got a lot worse. The fact that the SDI shows us how to recognise what and how the needs of others change during conflict and non-conflict situations really enabled me to match appropriately the energy and direction he was going, also to know when to speak and when to keep quiet.


Reflecting on the whole episode I realise that the more aware we are of what goes on in our relationships (however we meet) the more chance we have to practise. And ultimately the better we get at managing situations.

Without the SDI I may have looked a little different this morning!