Many new ridesharing drivers, when they sign up for Uber, Lyft, or a similar company, aren’t sure how to handle conversations with their passengers. Should they try to be energetic and make small talk? Or should they just stay quiet and speak when spoken to?
Communication is an important ingredient for success in most industries, and driving is no exception. If you’re a better communicator, you’re going to make fewer mistakes, you’re going to get higher ratings from your passengers, and you might even get some referrals—not to mention, you’ll be far more comfortable in the car moving forward.
So what should you actually be doing here?
Keep Your Eyes on the Road
First and foremost, keep your eyes on the road at all times. Don’t ever sacrifice you or your passengers’ safety for the sake of communication; this will put you both in danger and probably harm your rating as well. Distracted driving is a major epidemic, in part because it only takes a second or two of distraction to cause a major accident. If you have to text a question to your rider as you go to pick them up, pull over to do it and come to a complete stop. If you’re having an engaging conversation with someone in the backseat, project your voice or use the mirror rather than looking back.
Text for Short Queries; Call for Long Ones
As you go to pick up your passenger, you may need to send them a bit of communication; for example, you might let them know you’ve parked in the driveway at the side door, or you might not be sure where to go. If the interchange will be short, like a simple notification or a single yes-or-no question, opt to text; it’s less pressure for the rider, and is faster. If you have a more complex question, or if there will be some lengthy explanation required, opt for a phone call.
Speak Clearly and Articulately
Whether you’re calling or talking to a rider in your passenger seat, make sure you speak as clearly and articulately as possible. Learn to project your voice, and pronounce your words sharply to avoid miscommunication. Dealing with a driver who mumbles or can’t be understood is a nightmare for passengers who want to make light conversation.
Give a Warm Greeting
No matter what kind of passenger you have or what your style is, it’s important to give a warm greeting. A simple “Hi! How are you doing today?” with a smile can instantly set a better tone for the drive—and even antisocial riders will appreciate it. Make sure you’re sincere, and make your passengers feel welcome in your vehicle.
Read the Room
This is the most important etiquette tip in this article, because you’re going to meet a wide variety of passengers: learn how to read the room.
Some people will prefer to complete the ride in total silence, with no input from you, the driver. Some people will be disappointed if they don’t get to have a conversation with you. How can you tell the difference? Pay attention to what this person is saying and how they’re acting.
When you greeted this person, did they respond enthusiastically, leaning in and asking you about your day? Or did they cross their arms with a simple “fine, thanks?” During the ride, do they seem to be leaning forward and smiling, or are they buried in their phone or looking out the window? If you have two passengers, are they speaking to each other in a low voice, or are they speaking loud enough for you to hear?
Not all cases will be clear. If you’re not sure whether someone wants to engage in small talk, ask them a simple question, like “did you see the game yesterday?” or even “what do you do for a living?” Gauge how they respond; are they curt and held back, or are they keeping the conversation moving? Respond accordingly.
Keep It Light Unless Directed Otherwise
Finally, if you end up having a conversation with your passenger, try to keep things light—and avoid taboo subjects like politics, religion, and family and relationship issues. Most people don’t want to cover these topics with people they know, let alone a stranger. The only exception here is if you’re specifically directed to engage and you personally feel comfortable engaging—like if someone asks you specifically about your political beliefs.
Ridesharing conversation etiquette isn’t that complicated, but it will take some practice to read a room and engage with your passengers appropriately. After a few dozen riders, you’ll start to feel more comfortable with your own conversational rhythm—and everything will begin to feel natural.