Age brings wisdom and, we hope, a reduced likelihood of doing something stupid as a result of inexperience, naivety and general daftness. However, that same elder statesperson status can often lead us into having to have more awkward conversations than might have been the case when we were younger and knew nothing. (And yes, I do know that the teenagers in your life think they know everything…)
Whether it’s a delicate conversation about the need to get help for older relatives to help them retain their independence or contraception advice for teenage children or grandchildren, picking the right location to have that conversation is half the battle; if you get the location wrong, the chance of it all going horribly awry increases dramatically.
But, there’s no need to worry because I’ve got just the place - and it won’t surprise you to hear that I think the best place to have THAT conversation is in your car…
Christmas conversations: how to make the most of your family time
Your car is just about the most private place you own; you are in complete control of who’s in it, whereabouts you are, and how long you remain in there.
There’s not quite so much eye contact
Chatting in your car means you can avoid making eye contact too, which some people might prefer if the chat is about something they find embarrassing. While having an uncomfortable conversation in a pub or restaurant might limit the potential for public displays of anger, hurt or confusion, it does mean that you have to make frequent eye contact or risk being accused of being shifty and evasive.
Being in the car frees you from the need to look straight at the other person, whether you are the driver or the passenger. (That you should keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving goes without saying, surely?)
And if the conversation takes a turn where you feel that you should make direct eye contact - or even physical contact like a reassuring hug - then all you need to do is to find a safe place to stop and pull over.
The car provides fewer distractions than most other settings.
Of course, you’ll need to concentrate on the task in hand if you’re the one behind the wheel but you’ll be free of the distracting influence of other people, intrusive noises, and the compulsion to check your smartphone every few minutes. Giving a loved one your complete attention is very reassuring and shows them that you value your time with them, having made the space for both of you to talk without interruption.
And, don’t forget if you’re dealing with very young children this approach works just as well when they’re babbling on about everyday trivia; if you want them to be able to talk to you about the big stuff in their lives when they’re older then you need to listen to the little stuff now because, to them, chattering about seemingly inconsequential stuff is the big stuff.
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Being in a car also means that you’re forced into close proximity with the other person. Being so intimate and physically close to another person encourages both of you to be more open in your discussions than you might otherwise be.
There is also no opportunity for anyone to storm out, so you might end up reaching a resolution rather than wincing as the door slams.
Being on the road is soothing
There’s something soothing about being in a car, which is probably why so many of us fall asleep when we’re passengers. The rhythm of the road and the hypnotic effect of passing trees, hedges and even other vehicles can lull us into a semi-hypnotic state that encourages openness and a willingness to listen to another’s point of view.
Driving at night is especially seductive, something you might care to remember if an awkward conversation looms large on your To Do list.
Which brings me to my final point; there is no such thing as an awkward silence in a car. While few of us would be comfortable with long periods of silence in a pub or across the kitchen table, there is something about sitting side-by-side in a car that turns these pauses into comfortable periods of reflection, allowing us to really think about the other person’s perspective.
It also gives you the mental space to keep quiet until any moments of irritation have passed. Checking your mirrors, adjusting the heating, or even focussing on an upcoming bend in the road allows you to delay your answer until you’ve really thought about what you want to say instead of feeling the need to fire off the first, possibly angry, reply that springs to mind.