Columns / Positive Cultures

It takes thick skin

Resilient resolve handles complaints and ridicule

February 1, 2013
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Some folks say that third-shifters are ornery; a cantankerous, unruly bunch who brave midnight shifts with skeleton crews. I’ve always found them to be honest brokers who will tell you real issues directly to your face.

To be a supervisor of such a group takes a patience and humility that few possess. 

I was doing a New Year’s series of speeches to all three shifts of a large manufacturing plant with a proud history of serving the nation’s military and transportation industry. The company president, VP, and EHS coordinator were all present. I had finished my talk with the dozen or so 3rd shifters, who described the safety program as “loads better” than their early years of employment. Still, they also offered blunt discussions around hazards and safety issues left unresolved. Good for them.

During the break I overheard the third shift supervisor talking to the plant’s safety supervisor about the discussion. The shift supervisor (who was kind enough to drive me to my rental car at 3 a.m. in -3˚ F) had recently transferred from Texas. To me it was clear that he had the respect of his employees and they felt free to put the issues on the table. 

Complaints can sting

Still, it can sting when your employees complain about safety issues on your watch, especially when the president of your company is in the room for the safety kick-off. The supervisor told the safety supervisor that it kind of hurt his feelings that they complained so much after all he had done to improve safety for these folks.

Dave, their safety supervisor extraordinaire of 7 years, offered a load of wisdom: “You gotta have thick skin when dealing with safety issues. Just do what you know is right regardless.”

Dave was giving spot-on advice. In the safety game, to play it right, we put ourselves out there; our egos and reputations are wide open to criticism. And often, we get our feelings hurt.

Consider the employee who goes out of his comfort zone to approach and talk with another employee, who may be taking a risk, only to be confronted with a nasty comment about the concerned employee’s manhood.

Or the risk manager who has spent her career designing and managing an effective employee-based safety program only to have it undermined by new management.

Fortunately, getting your feelings hurt is NOT an OSHA recordable incident.

Gaining insight

I say it is the opposite of an incident. People who are willing to put themselves out there for the safety of others produce small wins. These are special people — and special people need special defenses for their feelings.

They don’t get beat down. Get defensive and fire back. Give up. Be a tattle-tale. Spread rumors. Write off that person.

Instead, they respond to hurt feelings with an inward smile and greater resolve to make things better. And “yes” they go to their social support group — not to be negative and complain — but to help build resolve and design solutions. This is one of my New Year’s resolutions for EHS pros. “Get to know five EHS professionals outside your company. E-mail them once a month with questions or ideas.” (See sidebar for other ideas.)

 That’s right. For every interaction you have with a naysayer, you gain insight into the problem you need to solve. 

Instead of being the VICTIM of ridicule, you become a better AGENT of change.

It’s not about you

And with each blow you successfully shield off, learn from, and solve, the more powerful your resilience becomes. And the more effective you are.

Don’t make it about yourself. If you do, your feelings are bound to take a beating. Take yourself out of the equation and see these criticisms and setbacks as calls for help. Then help.

It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to worry about getting your feelings hurt. After all, they are not recordable incidents.


 

Sidebar:

Challenge yourself

  • Learn everyone’s name at your site. If you already know their names, learn their kids’ names.
  • Forward two safety culture-related e-mails a month to your team and your leadership. Talk about them over a brown bag lunch.
  • Identify all potential safety hazards in your own home. Share your findings with your work team and encourage them to do the same.
  • Create hazard identification games to be played by work teams each quarter.
  • Get to know five EHS professionals outside your company.  E-mail them once a month with questions or ideas.
  • Create a behavioral self-appraisal form and give it to four people each quarter and ask them to give you feedback.
  • Send an e-mail or text once a day explicitly saying “thank you” to someone for building up the safety culture.  Be specific in the behaviors they did to earn your praise.
  • Make a list of three of the top resources you need.  Justify them, and put them at the end of every presentation you show to your leadership (or at the end of every e-mail).
  • Talk to two supervisors each day. Don’t advocate your safety initiatives.  Instead, inquire about their safety challenges.  Seek to solve those challenges.
  • Once a day, stand at a different vantage point to look over your operation.  Look at the people there. Take a deep breath and take a moment to acknowledge the effort you put in to keep them safe.

Pick at least three of these resolutions, print out the list and stick it on your office wall. Use it as a prompt. When the behavior occurs put a tally mark. Don’t get discouraged if you’ve missed a goal. These are new behaviors, in most cases, that need to be shaped and your self-monitoring will help in this.

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