Image is defined in one dictionary as “a mental representation.” In other words, it’s the picture in your mind that appears when someone mentions a word. For example, when you hear the word “nut,” you could imagine anything from a piece of metal that accompanies a screw or something you eat, such as a cashew or walnut, or even a person who you think is a little bit goofy.
Ask the non-trucking public to describe a “trucker” and you may hear words such as man, burley, and uneducated. When you change the words to “professional driver” you might hear a few more positive descriptive words, but not always.
Most of us agree that the trucking industry has an image problem and it all relates to the perception of those who don’t understand the importance and value of our industry. This could be due to the mental representation they have in their minds of “truckers.”
How many movies or television shows have depicted drivers as less than desirable neighbors? From Thelma and Louise to Duel, the drivers aren’t always the nicest guys on the road.
For those of us employed in the trucking industry, we each represent a segment, or a mental representation, to our neighbors and friends. Whether you are a driver, dispatcher, sales representative, safety professional, or technician, the people you meet will tie your affiliation to the trucking industry in their “mental representation.”
You might be the only professional driver in your church or the only diesel mechanic in your neighborhood. The image you leave these people with is one they will associate with your profession. Whether that is fair or not isn’t the issue, our minds just find a way to stereotype in the future what has been known to us in the past.
So, how does your personal image contribute to the one the industry is currently dealing with? If you’re wearing sweat pants and a nasty t-shirt to the grocery store on Saturday after a long trip without a shower, the clerk will (unfortunately) create a mental representation about you.
What if you were clean, dressed nicely, and smiled a lot? Wouldn’t that create a different image in someone’s mind about who you are and what you do for a living? Is it fair for someone to associate one person with an entire industry? No, but does it happen? Yes.
Think about the story about the blind men and the elephant. Each man felt a different part of the animal and came to his own conclusions about what an elephant looked like. One felt the tusks and assumed that all elephants were smooth and pointed. Another one felt the elephant’s skin and assumed that all elephants were coarse, and another blind man felt the trunk and thought the beasts were round and flexible. The story illustrates the different perspectives of the blind men. Each one had their own mental image of the elephant and they were all correct, but they were all wrong as well.
Don’t let the image of an industry be lowered because of your actions and your appearance. Think about how you represent your fellow drivers, managers, owners, and other colleagues in trucking. Although you are one small piece of a large group, you might be the only person your neighbor meets from your carrier.
If you truly care about the image of our industry, then take responsibility for your small part of it. Think about the elephant and the blind men and how their mental image was created by only touching a part of the animal.
We lament the fact that the motoring public doesn’t seem to understand the importance of the trucking industry, the professionalism of the drivers, and the skills needed to transport goods in a safe, efficient manner. You can change that.
Make sure the image you portray leaves a positive mental representation with everyone you meet. We can change their perception, one person at a time.