Safety Culture / Psychology

WDWT (Why don’t we talk?)

The lost art of face-to-face communication

July 11, 2011
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Can you translate this?

! AAMOI AFAIU AR FEAR BOCTAAE FEAR DAMHIKT EOD FOUO

Believe it or not the message above is this:

“I have a comment. As a matter of interest. As far as I understand. Action required. Forget everything and run. But of course there are always exceptions. Face everything and recover. Don’t ask me how I know this. End of discussion. For official use only.”

If you search the Internet, there are over 2,100 texting abbreviations. All in the name of swift communication.

Is a new language taking over? Have we forgotten how to converse with one another? Any given moment you can see people at their workstations, in their car, in meetings, and on the street communicating through texting, completely oblivious to what is happening around them. Is this frightening? It begs the question: Are they really communicating?

When discussing communication systems, many would immediately think of email, wireless, texting or Internet and other technological modes. While technology in communicating is a quick and timely method, human interface and interaction must not be abandoned. Does the ability to continually send messages increase the understanding of the messages? Does narrowing time and distance narrow the human connection?

With Facebook and Twitter, we are keeping in contact but are we placing distance between us? Texting is beginning to replace talking. Messages in emails are often misunderstood and sometimes considered threatening or insulting. This is because they lack the nonverbal communication that accompanies face-to-face conversation. These nonverbal signals, such as facial expressions, eye contact and tone of voice work to get a point across. If you’ve had a bad experience recently with a customer service representative, it is probably because of the deterioration of verbal communication happening in our society.

Communication systems in the workplace are the processes, both formal and informal through which information is passed between managers, supervisors and employees. The ultimate goal of any type of communication is to promote learning and understanding.

Safety is such a key issue in the working environment and should not be left entirely to technology for training and developing safety processes. Addressing the human factor is essential to promoting safety. Studies show that approximately 92-95 percent of all accidents result from unsafe behaviors, the human factor. Understanding this phenomenon begs us to use face-to-face communication when dealing with work safety.

Verbal communication in safety training

No single method of communicating safety information is ideal for training. Electronic content can be blended with interactive group exercises, work examples, feedback and performance support. Classroom training is not obsolete but needs to be at its best: less straight lecturing; more open discussion; activities; team problem-solving and an environment for practicing. Learning requires involvement. In the words of two well respected teachers, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.” Confucius, 500 B.C. and Aristotle, 350 B.C.

Training by technology only requires a self-motivated learner. Most people need more motivation to learn. When you introduce the human element and discussion into training you go beyond “knowing about” and achieve “knowing how to,” which leads to a high-level skill performance.

Adults come to training with years of experience and an abundance of information. We need to focus not only on the gaps of knowledge but the strengths trainees bring to class. Opportunity for dialogue in a training session presents a major source of enhancement by tapping trainees’ experience. Most adults prefer interactive learning.

Verbal communication in a safety process

Blending a cultural/behavioral aspect with the compliance side of safety will foster stronger communication and a better safety process. In an ideal setting for this blended process, the existing facility culture is understood as well as an agreed upon “new” safety through cultural surveys and conversations with all participants in the safety process.

In this type of process, a Lead Team and working sub-teams are developed to help all employees identify and pinpoint safe behaviors. Everyone works together to prepare checklists for on-the-job observations. During these observations, interface must take place to provide employees with feedback on what is being done right and what needs to be improved. The process also allows for suggestions and input from employees working in the area.

Solutions for any issues can be realized through collaboration. We want employees to take charge when it comes to safety. However, often we inhibit this practice by: Not providing the opportunity to contribute. Not reinforcing, or totally ignoring suggestions or questions. Making decisions regarding employees’ work without consulting them. Failing to recognize the knowledge, skills and creativeness of employees.

Questions are possibly one of the most powerful tools of good leaders. By not asking questions, one assumes they know all the answers. Not all workers have the personality style to step forward with suggestions or potential problems. When asked, however, many will offer more than expected.

Performance depends highly on the human element, perhaps more than the technical element. Many businesses concentrate heavily on the technical/systems aspects. Many times management feels most comfortable in a structured, logical environment with technical and administrative tasks topping the list in importance. Yet human dynamics play such an important role in any successful process. Managers need to walk around and talk. Learning about the people who work in a facility can reap many benefits. By merely taking the time to periodically walk around the facility and visit with employees, you may find that there is a lot of untapped knowledge and skill out there that can help the company. Employees need to feel that managers are accessible before they will get involved beyond their basic work requirements.

Face your day

All this requires “face-to-face” communication, the best and most essential part of any company’s communication system.

My husband (and partner) and I meet every morning to discuss our day’s work and activities. Through this practice (no matter how long the meeting), we accomplish more on any given day. We have a complete understanding and agreement of what needs to be done just by talking.

Foster teams to identify safe behaviors and communicate to the whole population.

Allow employees to share ideas verbally with each other.

Commit time to discussions and eye-to-eye communication.

Eliminate isolationism by utilizing conversation.

 

Teach oral skills to all employees.

Observe, listen to what is said and suggested by employees.

 

Facilitate opportunities for immediate feedback.

Avoid exclusively using abbreviated communications.

Capture the power of talking things out.

Enliven communication systems with two way discussions.

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