Don’t Tailgate

 

A few weeks ago I’m driving to the office along a four lane highway. The speed limit along this stretch of road is 55 MPH. In the fast lane, a small SUV is going about 35 MPH, twenty miles below the speed limit.

Naturally, this is gumming up traffic flow and vehicles all work their way around this slow vehicle using the right lane. As I get closer to the SUV, I notice two identical magnetic signs on the back tailgate, one on each side of the rear door handle.

Bumper to bumper traffic

The signs are hard to read, as the text is small. As I eventually get my turn to pass this slow moving driver, and move past, I am close enough to finally see the signs better. There is text at the bottom of each that is too small to read, even this close. But at the top of each magnetic sign are the words “Don’t Tailgate.”

Hmmm. Really?!?

I’m sure there is more to this story than I know. However, as a mutual participant of commuting with this person, I’m left to wonder a couple of things.

First, who puts “Don’t Tailgate” signs on their vehicle and then drives uncommonly slow in the fast lane?

Second, why create such signs in text so small that the only people who can read it have to be either aggressively tailgating or passing?

Instead of encouraging people not to tailgate, I think natural curiosity would entice otherwise safe drivers to come in closer just so they can read the signs.

I expect I’ll never learn the real “logic” behind these signs or the bad driving. What I did gain is an odd example of something we all do sooner or later: We forget to consider our messages from the perspective of the target audience.

This person may have signs that say, “Don’t Tailgate” but their delivery system (small text) and behavior (driving very slow in the fast lane) contradicts their message. Despite what they “say,” the driver is actually doing a great job of encouraging tailgating.

Remember your messages are more than just words. Actions matter and audience perspective matters. Honestly consider your message from the perspective of others and see if what you say (and do) still makes sense. Too often, misunderstandings are our own fault and could be avoided with a little forethought and consideration.

 


Glenn S. PhillipsGlenn S. Phillips is the author of the book Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself.  You can email Glenn directly at glennsphillips@nerdtoenglish.com.

Glenn is also the founder, and Senior Consultant, of Forte’ Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with business leaders to understand and address the often hidden technology and business risks lurking within their organizations.

© Copyright 2013. Glenn S. Phillips, Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.