I read this as I was going through injury report forms submitted by Birmingham UK bus drivers who had been assaulted at work. I thought “What bad luck! Such a dangerous job.”

Then I came across another form with the same words on … same driver. Then another and another and another. In total there were 5 forms in an 18-month time period where this unfortunate driver was punched in the face, for no reason, by an unknown passenger.

This was all part of my preparation for delivering some personal safety and conflict management training to the drivers of a bus company in the UK midlands. I wanted to know what was going on.


Getting to the bottom of it

I requested a meeting with a selection of drivers including the author of these forms.

He had been assaulted, compensated, given time off sick and then returned to work a total of 9 times in his 18-year career.

Interestingly, a colleague of his had been in the job, the same amount of time, driven the same routes and never been assaulted, never had time off and never claimed compensation.

I only had to meet the two men for a few minutes to realise why one had had multiple assaults and the other had years of trouble-free driving. Their communication style was strikingly different.

I asked our unlucky driver what happened in one of these assaults. He said “I was driving down the road in my bus when a bloke got on and punched me in the face!”

“Wow”, I said, “how awful. What happened immediately before he punched you?”

“He just got on and punched me.”

I asked “Was he drunk? Was it late at night?”

“No. It was 3.30 on a Thursday afternoon.”

“So, just so I’m clear, tell me, word for word, what was said”

“Right, I’m driving down the road, I stopped at the bus stop, the bloke got on and he was 10p short on his fare, so I told him to p**s off and he punched me in the face!!”

The “ah ha” moment

And there it was.

The meaning of the communication was the response that he got. In his mind he was perfectly legitimised to tell the passenger to p**s off. He could see no connection between his attitude and the behaviour of the passenger.

I asked his colleague, who had never been assaulted, what he did when a passenger was short of money. He told me he lets them on and asks they bring it the following day. Most of the time they do.

Interestingly the company has a policy of not challenging non-payment. The loss revenue is minimal and much cheaper than dealing with the compensation and time off if drivers are assaulted.

The meaning of the communication is the response that we get

It’s a powerful statement worth stating again: “The meaning of the communication is the response that we get ”


You might not have meant to cause offence with a throw away remark but it’s possible you caused it.

If you aren’t being understood by someone, what are you saying and how are you saying it that is confusing or not clear? There can be a huge gap between your intent when you communicate and the effect when it is heard by someone else.

At red10 we believe if you are not getting the response you want, change your style or method of communication.

If you are misunderstood, how can you flex to suit the audience?

We help organisations and people be the best they can be and we want you to be able to get the response that you want, not to get punched in the face … for no reason … by and unknown passenger.

Please ask us about:

  • How we can help individuals with their communication, using our 9D Coaching packages
  • How we can help organizations with their communication, using our Influencing Skills Masterclass