Ever noticed how the best conversations happen in the car? There’s something about those steely, quiet cocoons that can render even the meekest of us a motor mouth. It’s where Harry met Sally, Bonnie conspired with Clyde, and who can forget John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson’s yarn about the Royale with cheese?
In his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld has found numerous passengers of note to be most forthcoming after hopping into one of these mobile cones of silence (he got President Obama gabbing about his underwear) while James Corden has managed to get even the most notoriously private celebrities belting out their own (and others) tunes in his late night segment Carpool Karaoke. But car-induced candour works for the serious stuff, too.
“Having less eye contact during difficult moments frees up people to discuss the topic at hand,” writes communications consultant Jennifer Abrams in Having Hard Conversations. “Parents recognise this when they wait until they are in the car, eyes forward and driving before they initiate that awkward conversation with their children.”
The beauty of bringing up big issues at high speed is that you, and your companion, are not only trapped but, unless you’re playing some tunes, it’s generally radio silent (excuse the pun). However squeamish the conversation, you’re guaranteed to give it a go – if only because there is nothing more awkward than sitting in silence.
Here are five tough topics to get you off and racing:
What’s been bothering you
Problems are like corn kernels – if you leave those little things on the boil they’ll spew out in a popping-hot mess. So if you’re silently simmering over something – or someone – speak up. But keep it simple (and snappy, especially if you’re just shooting to the shops). Put away the soapbox and get your gripe across in short, clear sentences that stick to the facts (no one has the capacity to leave the toilet seat up millions of times a day) with plenty of pauses for your passenger to get a word in. It takes two to talk, you know. And don’t even start the engine without a solution or two to suggest.
The money talk
Often cited as the number one awkward topic to talk about (ranking well above death, politics and even religion, according to a study from the US), money is definitely one to broach from the safety of your car seat. But be prepared. Research has shown that we’re a lot less inclined to listen to other people’s opinions if we’re tired, so save this particular convo for a leisurely weekend outing, rather than the last hours of a day-long roadtrip. And don’t forget the snacks. People are far more patient and better at making decisions when they’re not fantasising about the nearest Macca’s drive-thru.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that admitting to wrongdoing might indicate a lack of strength, but au contraire, it takes a tremendous amount of fortitude to fess up and say “I’m sorry”. Several years ago, Mark Zuckerberg issued a very public apology for a Facebook security glitch, saying they “really messed this one up” and in doing so, established a frank, honest tone with its users. Make like Mark. Take ownership of your mistake and say it with us now: “My bad.” And as tough as apologies can be, they’re made that much easier by the fact you can keep your eyes on the road, instead of your car companion’s face if things get a little tricky. Now roll that one out when you’re next behind the wheel.
What you care about
British entrepreneur and author Matt Symonds (who is also the co-founder of Fortuna Admissions, a company that has ‘the final say’ on admissions to prestigious schools like Harvard) thinks that, “When you understand what matters most to you, it’ll help solidify your self-awareness and give you a strong foundation,” as he wrote for Forbes. So throw these questions around with your driving buddy. ‘What do you love or hate about life?’ ‘What makes you happy or sad?’ ‘What gets you up (or not get up) in the morning?’ You could even set the scene with this beauty – ‘What do you care enough about that you would argue with someone over it at a fancy dinner party?’ – a sure-fire way to jump-start some deep and meaningfuls.
Your hopes and dreams
In the words of American humourist Erma Bombeck: “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else,” and it’s little wonder that on typing ‘how to talk about’ into the search box, Google ends the sentence with ‘yourself’. If you’re not sure where to start, kick off conversation by asking yourself: ‘What does success looks like for you?’ If this draws a blank, now’s a great time to define your aspirations. Try asking: ‘What was your first childhood career hope and dream?’ ‘Three years from now, what would you like to be doing?’ ‘What would you like to have achieved?’ You’ll get a lot of mileage out of these.