Home » PSYCHOLOGY OF SAFETY: Academics vs. consultants Can awareness of distinctions enable synergy?
Five years ago a major consulting firm sent its clients an e-mail in an attempt to dissuade them from attending the annual Behavior Safety Now (BSN) conference. The e-mail stated disappointment in the quality of the conference presentations, and added, â€œThe conference has become a showcase for academics and â€˜wannabeâ€™ consultants.â€ That year I was a keynote speaker at the BSN conference, as I have been every year since its inception.
I began my address with a display of select portions from this e-mail, including the quote given above. Then I admitted to being both an academic and a â€œwannabeâ€ consultant.
Yes, Iâ€™m proud to have been in academia for almost 40 years, meaning Iâ€™ve taught and conducted research at a large public university since 1969.
And Iâ€™m a â€œwannabeâ€ consultant. From the start of my academic career Iâ€™ve had a passionate desire to translate research-based findings and principles into practical real-world procedures. For the past 30 years, Iâ€™ve fulfilled this desire by teaching useful principles and procedures to real-world practitioners and agents of change.
Over the years Iâ€™ve become a better consultant. Iâ€™ve continued to gain more research-based information, and Iâ€™ve learned through feedback how to communicate academic knowledge more effectively â€” from my oral presentations to written expression in books, magazines, and conference proceedings. But I want to improve further â€” at teaching practical research-derived knowledge to enrich the health, safety, and human welfare of clients I serve and the public in general. I am a â€œwannabe betterâ€ consultant.
I learned the hard way to adjust my academic stance when in the public forum. First, I found I needed to refrain from using complex rhetoric, or verbal behavior used to appear intellectual or professional. This is one of academiaâ€™s biggest problems â€” the failure to disseminate research findings with language everyone can readily understand.
What a disappointment to have important principles and applications couched in a scholarly lingo that isnâ€™t readily digested by the public. That leaves the diffusion of information to the less-than-academic â€œpop psychologistsâ€ who often water down good information. But if these individuals donâ€™t put it out there, too often it would not get beyond the ivory towers of academia.
Next I realized I should hold back on naming the â€œpop psychologyâ€ authors I was criticizing. It took the focus away from the point I was making. And I activated in the minds of my audience the names of the very persons I wanted them to forget.
In the academic world we reference everything that is not entirely original. We are careful to recognize the original source of information, even when challenging or discrediting certain aspects of that information. In contrast, consultants rarely reveal the source of material they use or discount, nor do they criticize other consultants or their material. They stick to presenting their own perspective without regard to the origins of that perspective.
I appreciate the consultantsâ€™ avoidance of public critique of another consultantâ€™s procedures. Still, the academic in me wishes consultants would give credit to those individuals (usually academics) who first developed a particular approach. Iâ€™ve found audiences appreciate hearing where consultants learned the information they share.
Oneâ€™s competence as a consultant is not diminished by giving credit to the original source of a particular principle or procedure. Indeed, by referring to solid research supporting a particular intervention process, you very likely increase your own credibility. But try to find the primary research-based source rather than crediting an author who merely describes the work of someone else. If you have difficulty finding a primary source, contact an academic. Knowing the sources of information in their discipline is the academicâ€™s forte.
Among the articles in the November 2020 issue of ISHN Magazine, we discuss what smart factory really means, delve into the perils of water damage, learn how to prevent eye injuries, and take a deep dive into silicosis dangers when working with quartz.