Tara West

February 12, 2023

When I was about 12 years old, a neighbor kid ("Bart") offered me a ride on the back of his moped. Bart told me there was only one thing I needed to remember - when he leaned into a turn, I needed to lean with him. Sure, I said. No problem.

But when the time came, did I lean with Bart, into the turn? No, I did not. In fact, I leaned away from Bart. Even though I remembered the rule, every bone in my body screamed, Oh heck no! If I lean with Bart, we’ll both be leaning toward the ground, and surely we’ll crash, right?

Actually no - crashing into the ground is precisely what happened when I leaned in the other direction. Well, first we wobbled as Bart struggled to regain his balance, and then he completely lost control and the bike slid away from us. Needless to say, we both fell to the ground. Hard.

Fortunately we were in a field, and no one was seriously hurt. And even more fortunately, I remembered this lesson when riding on the back of motorcycles as an adult (okay, I’ve only ridden on the back of motorcycles a handful of times, but let me feel cool for a second, alright?).

So what does this have to do with conflict, you ask?

When someone is upset or angry, our natural inclination is to lean away from the person - to try to calm them down, or convince them to see things another way. We want to pull the other person away from the anger or frustration, and from the thoughts that seem to be causing it.

But just like riding on the back of a motorcycle, leaning away often creates exactly what we feared. The "driver" doesn’t feel heard, which makes them lean even more in the other direction (essentially, "You aren't hearing me, so now I need to say it louder!"). Their emotion intensifies, and conflict escalates.

But if we lean with the other person, allowing them to feel heard and understood, they'll be more likely to get to a better place, when and how it’s safe to do so. Leaning with someone doesn’t mean you agree with them - it means you accept where they are, in that moment.

Whether we’re offering an ear to a friend, trying to help others have a constructive conversation, or caught in a conflict ourselves, leaning with the driver, rather than away from them, can help us avoid a wipe out.

(As always, only you know what’s right for you, so please trust yourself when trying any new communication techniques... but definitely lean with any actual motorcycle drivers!)

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