Smart Driving

Anger Management

Drivers, managers and carriers all play roles in defusing or preventing conflicts

You asked dispatch for a load to get you home, but now you’re going to miss your son’s football game.

You were scheduled to deliver that load three hours ago, but you’re still waiting for the dock to open up.

You don’t understand these charges on your settlement, and no one’s getting back to you.

Trucking is full of conflicts and problems that can stress out the most patient driver. From road issues to problems with carriers, shippers and consignees, the trucker’s job is a daily challenge. How the operator, the driver manager and the company the driver’s associated with deal with those challenges, however, determines whether the trucker feels in control of his or her job or is continually searching for another Rolaids tablet.

“They have a tough job,” says Tres Parker, vice president of operations at Boyd Bros., based in Clayton, Ala.. “We’ve got to do everything we can to make their job as easy as can be. We have to keep conflict away from that driver.”

Dan Baker, a motivational speaker and trucking industry consultant, says the industry is divided between those drivers “outside the wall” and dispatchers and safety and maintenance personnel on the inside. “Outside the wall, the company driver or owner-operator has a lot of time,” he says. “Time can be a real problem if you’re alone in your cab. Inside the wall, they don’t have any time. What is little to a dispatcher becomes big to a driver.”

Baker says he tries to get across to those working inside the wall how small incidents often get bigger inside a driver’s mind. “It can be a payroll mistake; it can be a click in his engine; it can be a dispatcher’s tone of voice.”

Resolving conflicts involves the best efforts of the driver or independent contractor, the driver manager or dispatcher and the carrier, says Rim Yurkus, president and CEO of Strategic Programs Inc. Each has a role to play to help make the operator’s job easier and less stressful.

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A driver can head off conflicts by how he or she raises an issue. “Rather than saying, ‘Why did you cheat me on this paycheck,’ which is just begging for a fight, you might say, ‘I’m having trouble understanding the calculation on this paycheck. Could you explain it to me?’ “

Knowing how to cool down before addressing a problem helps alleviate the tension, Baker says. “To be successful in trucking, you have to be able to manage your thinking and your money,” he says. “On the thinking end, the older drivers kind of have that down. They know to park their truck, get out and walk around it three times and work off their frustrations before calling. The younger ones need a lot more online communication.”

Don’t be hesitant about telling your driver manager or carrier what’s bugging you. Yurkus says drivers who are introverted and not given to expressing themselves may cap their feelings and not discuss problems. Carriers should make it part of orientation to tell new drivers to open up when they have a question or problem.

As the most frequent contact with most drivers, drivers and dispatchers can make or break a driver’s day. Yurkus says the most important action is to be responsive when a driver calls in. Even when the manager can’t give an answer right away, he should tell the driver he received the message and is gathering information. “If not the driver is going to fill the vacancy of information with negative intent,” Yurkus says. “Communicate, communicate.”

Parker says Boyd plans to use personality testing to match drivers with fleet managers who might have the temperament to deal with them best. The carrier also trains its managers on stress management, conflict resolution and ways to deal with day-to-day issues. “We empower them on the front line to make decisions,” Parker says about its fleet managers. “We went through training with them to understand how to handle each situation on the spot.”

How company management communicates with employees or operators will help determine how satisfied they will be. For some issues, Boyd has a multiple-step process to find resolution. Drivers have a handbook that contains a reference guide on how different situations are to be handled.

Both Boyd and Maverick Transportation use recruiting and orientation as an opportunity for drivers and company personnel to exchange expectations to help alleviate problems and aid retention. Brad Vaughn, Maverick’s director of recruiting, says the carrier asks prospective drivers five questions about their expectations for things such as miles, home time and experience using Qualcomm systems. “If we find we’re not on the same page, we’re going to set the driver straight about the way conditions are. Then we go over a list of what the company expects of them, such as how we expect our employees to be treated and how to treat our equipment and to deliver on time. We tell them, ‘Let the system work for you.’ Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.”

Boyd’s Parker says since most people retain a small percentage of what they hear at orientation, a fleet manager will discuss topics such as maximizing mpg and home-time policy and go over areas that could cause conflict. “You can get that driver on the same page from the get-go,” he says.

When a company changes a policy that could have a negative impact for drivers, communicating it completely will help head off conflicts, even when the news is bad. “If you don’t explain it, the driver is going to explain their version why you’re doing it,” Yurkus says.

In the recession when carriers reduced pay, Yurkus says those who did a poor communication job will be paying the price in turnover as the economy improves. Others that did it the right way are rewarded with drivers who are more loyal and understanding, he says.

In the end, Parker says following the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated goes a long way in building a good relationship with drivers that leads to fewer conflicts. “Without them, we don’t get a paycheck,” he says. “They’re our lifeline. We have to take care of them.”

Seven Steps to Conflict Resolution

1. Listen more than you talk

2. Be willing to look for constructive solutions

3. Stay on the issue and get off personalities

4. Keep “blame” and “fault” out of your vocabulary

5. Fix the system instead of the blame

6. Be an on-the-spot communicator

7. Leave as little for later as possible

SOURCE: Industry consultant Dan Baker