I’ve always been fascinated by turn signals on cars.

It’s such a simple thing. 

You make the left light blink on the rear of your car to signal to others that you intend to change lanes or make a left turn.

I’m fascinated by the dynamics around what happens when signals aren’t sent or when others don’t like your signal.

In a traffic jam, signaling your intention to change lanes often causes adversarial drivers to close the gap, making it impossible for you to change lanes safely. 

If you don’t signal and just change lanes, it’s a less safe lane change. You put all drivers at a higher risk (including yourself), but you don’t give an adversary advanced notice of your intentions. 

There have been times on the freeway when I’ve wanted to change lanes but a car was blocking me. When this recently happened, I was irritated at first, thinking of the other driver as an adversary. 

However, I signaled my intent anyway and the other driver recognized what I was trying to do. In response, he started signaling back. It turns out, he wanted to change to the lane I was in and I was blocking him!

In a moment of simultaneous recognition, we realized we were not in competition for the same piece of real estate on the road.

In the end, I sped up slightly and changed to his lane. He slowed down slightly and changed to mine. Over the span of a few seconds, we safely swapped lanes on the road.

It turns out, signaling works well in cooperative environments. Signaling also works well to shift ambiguous environments to cooperative ones.

In the workplace, your words are your signals.

To be an effective signaler, you want your signals and your words to be perceived as accurate.

This means two things:

  1. Your signals match your actions.
  2. Your actions match your signals.

In other words…

  1. You say what you mean.
  2. You mean what you say.

When your words and actions are congruent and consistent over long periods of time, people trust you more.

Congruency + Consistency = Trust

Trust takes years to build and only moments to destroy. The fastest way to destroy trust is to send false signals by saying one thing and doing another. 

At best, it creates confusion. At worst, it signals you’re an adversary.

It’s worth considering:

  1. Do you say what you mean?
  2. Do you mean what you say?

If not, why not?

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