Road sage or road rage. Conflict and choices.

I had two near misses with a car and a delivery truck while riding my bike last week.

That’s no biggie. If you ride a bike in Melbourne, you learn to ride defensively.

What struck me about these two was the contrasting reactions of both drivers to almost identical situations of potential conflict.

The second near miss happened on my way to facilitate a tricky session with people with opposite views.

Both near misses made me think about how participants and facilitators respond to conflict in a group where people disagree. Often strongly.

Near Miss #1

I thought I was going to cop it from the first driver. I swore as he pulled out in front of me, forcing me to an abrupt stop on a wet road.

He pulled into the kerb and crossed the road towards me. My heart was racing.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. “Are you hurt? Are you ok?”

Unexpected. Discombobulating. A welcome change.

He looked as if he was going to cry.

 “I clocked the girl on the footpath, but not you.”

“I’m so sorry.”

I ended up asking if he was ok.

He stopped not to indulge in a bit of road rage, but to admit fault. To say sorry.

I imagine he had to sacrifice a bit of his ego by admitting fault, as the Vital Smarts crew highlight in their seminal book, Crucial Conversations.

Such humility would be welcome in some of the groups I’ve facilitated. Or umpired in some cases.

Like the angry man up the front of a public meeting about a project to which a small and vocal group were violently opposed. The rest of the town were interested to hear about how it would make their commute to the city faster. It might mean that their kids could go to uni without having to stay overnight. They wanted to find out more.

But Mr Angry was determined to have a fight from the start. He pushed and poked the project team to breaking point. It was hard for anyone else to get a word in. I doubt anyone who was interested in hearing about potential benefits would have had the courage to speak.

Near Miss #2

I thought of Mr Angry when the delivery driver swore at me during Near Miss #2. He didn’t look left and pulled out in front of me.

Anticipating his move, I had already come to a stop. He was clearly shocked to see me and I copped the full force of his guilt.

“You *&*$ idiot! Get off the road!”

His verbal abuse wounded me as much as a fall off my bike would have.

It’s distressing that cyclists and drivers often clash. Near Miss #1 showed that it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s less dangerous, but has the potential to become distressing, when people disagree in a group that has come together to work through an issue that they all care about – often passionately.

I wish we could rub along a bit more together on the road. Next time a driver doesn’t see me, I’m going to remember Near Miss #1. He turned a potential clash into a hopeful encounter.

And I’ll visualise him the next time I encounter a Mr Angry in a group.