By John Latta
We learn to communicate as we grow; we are automatically socialized to like playing with other kids. Over time we learn to ask for what we want and to tell other people how we feel. As we age we become more sophisticated at both sending and receiving communication, learning, for example, to interpret body language cues and to exchange complex thoughts. We model what other people do, mimic what we see and hear and learn by trial and error via intimate personal contact. We learn that personal communication demands more than just words, no matter how they are intoned or delivered.
And then there is the telephone.
Phones were designed for secondary communication. We recognize that communicating in person would be better, but on occasion the phone is more efficient. Sometimes it’s the only choice.
Unlike most people, truckers must rely on phones for their primary communications in both business and personal contact.
Truckers have to learn “phone” the way other people have to learn Japanese or German, not just the words but the subtleties and nuances. Where I can work out a problem face-to-face with the people in my office, where I can sit down on the edge of my son’s bed to talk to him about a problem that is shaking his world, truckers usually have to solve their problems on the phone. So their “phone” has to be as good as my “in person,” and they have to deliver it via voice alone.
Some things are easy on the phone because they are just procedural – where the next load is, or where your spouse should take the car for repairs. But what if you are 1,000 miles from nowhere and your career is on the line and you are talking to your boss via cell phone on I-80? What about when family fires need putting out right now and all you have is a truckstop phone booth and one person at a time on the other end?
I remember writing a Truckers News cover story about married couples driving team. Every one of these couples said you’ll know within weeks if you are destined to make it, because with nowhere to hide from each other your communication skills will be tested to the max in a hurry. Interestingly, they all also said that if you do make it, communication between you will continue to get better and better and your relationship will grow deeper and deeper.
It makes you wonder if the phone doesn’t give us a sort of license to be lazy, encouraging us to blame the device for limiting the depth of what we exchange. Your phone doesn’t put you right there with the person you’re talking to. It puts your voice there but not your eyes, your body or the way you smile.
However, I’ve met truckers who have cultivated skills with that phone. I own a guitar, for instance, and I can play a handful of chords and generally very badly. But that same guitar would be something entirely different in the hands of Eric Clapton.
In person, words are only part of what you convey to the people in front of you. Without those physical cues to help people understand, you need to learn to work that phone like Clapton would my six-string. Don’t just send sentences out into space, send yourself – tears, laughter, warts and all. Play that thing!