The Big Truck Theory Of Building Relationships

No success in business will ever make up for a failure at home.

I speak to thousands of people every year, and I see them working hard… really hard… to be a success in business. And God bless ’em. We need people like that… people who care about quality, productivity, and customer service.

Unfortunately, some of those same people are struggling at home. And the reason is simple. They work harder at their jobs than they do at their relationships.

Somehow or other, they tend to assume if everything is going well at work, everything will work out well at home. But it doesn’t work that way.

So don’t fool yourself. Don’t sacrifice your family for the sake of your job… because no success in business will ever make up for a failure at home. I know. I made that mistake one time, and it took me years to rectify the damage.

That’s why I live by the Big Truck Theory… and maybe you should too. The Big Truck Theory says, “If you get hit and killed by a big truck today, someone else will be doing your job tomorrow. But if you get hit and killed today, you will never be replaced at home. You will be missed forever.”

Now that might sound soft and sappy… coming from me — a person whose entire career is focused on leadership, motivation, and teamwork programs for business, government, education, and health care groups. But I’ve learned that it’s difficult… very difficult… for me or anyone else… to exert inspirational leadership, disperse meaningful motivation, and build effective teamwork… if your home life is a mess.

And good companies know that as well. That’s why they’re encouraging their employees to maintain some semblance of work-life balance.

Of course, the ultimate responsibility falls on your shoulders. So what can you do… so you don’t make the same mistake as so many others… of sacrificing your family for your job? The answer lies in three words:


That means you’ve got to DO something to make your relationships work. And yet the pop culture says the exact opposite. If a relationship fails, pop culture tends to say, “Well, it wasn’t meant to be… or… we just weren’t right for each other.”

That’s why Internet dating services are so popular. You don’t have to DO anything to make a relationship work out. You simply have to FIND the right person… and then you’ll be happy forever and ever.

False. Not true.

Certainly some people are more compatible than others, but every good relationship… at home… or on the job… is the result of hard work and nurturing. And while there are dozens of skills you can use to build or nurture your relationships, many of which I teach in my “Journey To The Extraordinary” program, there are three bottom-line rules you absolutely must follow.

Rule #1: Be wary of self-centeredness.

In fact, self-centeredness lies at the root of every deteriorating relationship with your coworkers, friends, and family members. When you put yourself in the center of all your thoughts, you start to kill off your relationships.

To make things worse, physicians tell us that self-centeredness, self-love, self-pity, and self-interest can easily turn into physical illness. By contrast, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said, “To be healthy, be helpful.”

For example, on the Kentucky frontier in the late 1700’s, there was a small community that suffered great losses from an Indian raid. One-fifth of the people were killed, and the survivors were in dire straits. There was more work to do than people to do it.

One woman in the community was desperately ill. The pastor came to see her. “Hannah,” he asked, “if you die, who is going to care for all the children?”

Hannah looked up with sadness in her eyes. At that moment she stopped thinking about her own misery and began thinking about the children who needed her. It was enough to set her back on the road to recovery.

And once you’re rid of self-centeredness…

Rule #2: Give generous amounts of time.

That’s a toughie… at least for me. In a world as busy and demanding as mine, it’s always been easier for me to give money than time to my kids, my church, and my charities. Perhaps the same has been true for you. After all, I hear a lot of people say something like, “We don’t have much time for each other, but what we do have is quality time.”

Well I’ve come to learn that’s pretty much a lame excuse. The quality of your time will never make up for the lack of quantity. And you won’t find any research that suggests otherwise.

As Jesse Jackson says, “Your children need your presence more than your presents.” And Arnold Glasow notes, “The best thing to spend on children is your time.”

Good relationships with team members, coworkers, customers, friends, and family members takes time. It’s like the day a young man was walking down a road when a frog called to him. “Sir, if you kiss me, I will turn into a beautiful princess.”

The young man picked up the frog, smiled at it and put it in his pocket.

Now the frog was upset. “Sir, what is the matter?” the frog cried. “I told you that I am a beautiful princess, and if you kiss me, I’ll be yours.”

The young man took the frog from his pocket, looked at it, smiled, and said: “Look, I’m a computer programmer. I have no time for a girl friend, but a talking frog is cool!”

Does that sound a bit like you? Do you have a wonderful relationship… just waiting for you… but you don’t have the time for it? Then I implore you to take another look at the Big Truck Theory.

Finally, when you’re giving generous amounts of time to those you care about, don’t just “hang around” each other. Make sure, during a good portion of that time, that you follow…

Rule #3: Listen to the other person.

It’s one of the best ways to nurture a relationship and affirm your caring. One mother learned that lesson from Maria, her youngest child.

This mother came home from work after a long hard day. Maria ran out to greet her, saying, “Mommy, wait until I tell you what happened today.” After listening to a few sentences, her mother responded by indicating that the rest of her story would have to wait as she needed to get dinner started.

During the meal the phone rang. Then the other members of the family had to share their stories, which were louder and longer than Maria’s. Once again she tried to share her story after the kitchen was cleaned and her brother’s homework questions were answered. But by then it was time for bed.

When Mom came to tuck her in, Maria looked up and asked, “Mommy, do you really love me, even when you don’t have time to listen to me?”

Not a bad question. In fact, every customer, every team member, every spouse, and every friend wonders the same thing. They wonder if you really care about them if you don’t take time to listen to them.

By contrast, one of the greatest gifts you can give to another person is the gift of listening. In fact, nothing validates a person’s value more than close, caring, undivided attention. An anonymous cab driver made that clear. He wrote the following.

The Cab Driver Who Took The Time To Listen

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living.

When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away. But, I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

So I walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice.

I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.”

The old lady asked, “Would you carry my bag out to the car?” I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. “It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.”

“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said.

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”

“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked. For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You have to make a living,” she answered.

“There are other passengers,” I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

“You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us.

That’s right. Great moments catch us… if we’re willing to give generous amounts of time and really listen to the people in our lives. It’s part of the “rules” that have to be followed if you’re going to build positive relationships in your life.

Action:  Select two relationships that need more of your time and more of your listening. And then write down 3 ways you will do each of those things in the next 7 days.