Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

Five Tips to Help You Tame Your Road Rage

Difficult drivers are everywhere!

There's a big difference between observing reckless vehicular behavior and reacting to it with rage. It's perfectly normal to be alarmed at poor driving and hopefully to respond defensively. But some of us, myself included, get furious at times. We honk our horns. We slow way down with them right on our tailgate to "teach them a lesson," or we pull up beside them, roll down our windows, and yell.

I've been guilty of such behavior. When I'm driving in my car, I have a filter devoted to "rude" people and I watch for them as I drive. Now I practice going quiet in my car a lot, and it's the place I personally struggle the most with applying my knowledge to start removing the filters in front of my experiences. Filters are what lie between us and the world; they prevent new information.

Once in a while, in my neighborhood, a car will pull out fast into the street. I've almost been hit a number of times. My "rude" filter will immediately kick in and I'll start to feel myself getting angry, until I realize it's my neighbor whom I adore behind the wheel of the car. All of a sudden, my filter moves to, "She must be having a hard day with the kids and be in a hurry. That's not like her to drive so quickly." I then wave her along with a big smile and go on my way.

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Huh? How did the "rude" driver turn into my neighbor and friend and someone I can smile at, even though she almost hit my car? My filters. The viewpoint I have about people I like and people I know. They aren't the same "rude" people as all the strangers out there driving around.

Here are a few strategies that can help you overcome your road rage.

It's all about you. Whether you like it or not, we all--unintentionally--view every experience through our own lenses. Every thought we have, every experience we go into, we color with "me." It's not that we try to do this or that we're bad people. It's just that we have no choice, because we're unaware of what we're doing and how we're behaving. When you feel another person is an "idiot" on the road, what you're really doing is making a judgment about how that person is acting in relation to you. Sometimes just being aware of your "me filter" can give you a new perspective and help you avoid an emotional outburst that you'll later regret.

Your filter isn't the same as theirs. We often don't notice that our own filters--the ones that shape our view of the world--aren't the same as the other person's. In fact, we instinctively believe that everyone else does (or should) view the world the same way that we do! They should be as careful, considerate, and smart behind the wheel as we are. We don't realize that if we didn't have our opinion of what we should expect, or what others should be doing, we wouldn't feel road rage. We would simply respond with quick thinking and a feeling of gratitude that we--and they--are still safe.

You can't change anyone else. One of the reasons we rant at drivers is to "show them who's boss and teach them a thing or two." Guest what? You can't. You can't teach another driver how to drive better if you're simply reacting to their behavior. Before you get into trouble yelling at another driver or getting out of the car to give him or her a piece of your mind, remember this simple truth. It really does help with impulse control.

Watch what's happening. If you're confronting, or about to confront, a bad driver, see if you can step outside the situation mentally and observe yourself. It's interesting to see how robotic we are in such situations. See the other person's fear, anger, or other reactions, and what you're doing to contribute. The act of dropping your need to be right, right in the middle of the exchange, is an exhilarating experience.

Confront thoughtfully. If it's absolutely imperative that you talk to the other driver--say, because his behavior is putting others in danger--think about what you want to accomplish before you open your mouth. That way, you're more likely to get your real message across, instead of merely conveying the underlying emotion (anger, frustration, outrage, etc.).

Difficult drivers are common no matter where you live. Reacting to them seems natural and necessary. Hopefully the next time a “rude” driver comes into your driving world, you will be equipped with responses that won’t injure you either mentally, emotionally or physically. Getting upset and focusing on that other person isn’t good for your driving ability either!

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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