by Liz Jansen
Getting your message across is a survival skill for motorcycle riders. In theory, using turn signals and brake lights alerts others to your intended action helps avoid collisions.
Although an admirable first step, assuming those communications have been acknowledged and understood, and that drivers will respond appropriately could prove to be a grave error.
As an operator, you control the signals you send out, signals which extend beyond the electrical devices on your motorcycle. Apply the same principles at work, home or the gym to make sure the messages you’ve sent have been received as intended. They’ll go a long way in averting misunderstandings, hurt feelings or miscued behavior.
- Use your signals. Doing something is a start. It’s hard for drivers to anticipate your direction if you can’t be bothered using turn signals or activating brake lights (through engine braking). Likewise, if you clam up on personal communications, others can’t tell what you’re doing.
- Make sure signals are working. On your bike, make sure they’re working, highly visible and unobstructed. And forget vanity lights. Do the same with family, friends and coworkers.
- Get attention. Look at any web page and observe how many pictures, flashes, pop ups are necessary to engage readers. Your message needs to be carefully crafted to reach your intended audience. On a bike, the more visible you are, the more likely you are to be seen. Wear high visibility gear, use hand signals along with turn signals as much as possible. Anything you can do to attract attention increases your odds of making it through that intersection safely.
- Apply communication consistently. If you’ve ever been behind someone who puts their brake lights on, then off, then on for no apparent reason, you know how confusing the message can be. While your actions need to match the situation, be sure that you’re using a consistent, logical approach in your communications.
- Allow plenty of response time. There are many distractions on the road. Your brake light is but one of them. Use it before the last minute so it has a chance to catch drivers’ attention and give them time to respond. At home or work, be considerate of others and keep them informed, particularly on the important things.
- Match your body language to the message. Everyone has seen riders blissfully proceeding down the road, oblivious to their blinking turn signal. It’s confusing because you don’t know if they’ve forgotten to cancel it, or if they’re anticipating a turn. The same can happen with interpersonal communications – especially if you’re masking a message.
- Confirm the message was received as intended. While this is tough to do on a motorcycle, there are clues that others have noticed you. Still, the best adage is to assume they don’t see you and execute your moves accordingly. In person, it’s a little easier, to confirm verbal and non-verbal cues. And there’s usually less at stake.
- Speak with confidence. Insecure riders are easy to peg and I give them a wide berth. I don’t know what they’re going to do and I don’t want to be on the receiving end. Whether you’re on the road or at the office, convey your message with confidence. And if you’re unsure, practice.
- Get to the point. You’ve only got another’s attention for a short period of time no matter what you’re doing. While riding, use your signals with purpose, timeliness and appropriateness. Similarly, when communicating directly with others on important matters, don’t waste time and attention with long drawn out stories.
With the delete key being so easy to use, email subject lines have to grab the reader’s attention if they’re going to be opened. That same attitude carries over onto the road. People are used to being bombarded with communications and are easily distracted. They filter out all messages except those that affect them directly. Make sure they get yours.
reprinted from February 2013