Techniques Safety Leaders can use for Difficult Conversations: Part Two
In Part Two, we’re examining what to do when unsafe actions in the workplace persist.
Sometimes after a discussion with an employee about unsafe behaviours or actions in the workplace, the problem continues. You have had one conversation and follow-up, but there is still a problem. As a safety leader, it’s your job to deal with it. We continued our discussion with coach and consultant Nadene Joy to learn how to proceed when unsafe behaviours persist after having a difficult conversation.
Start with Curiosity
Begin the conversation by acknowledging the situation and asking to know more about the issue. “Approach it from a place of curiosity, and wanting to know their perspective on what’s happened,” says Joy. “Keep a calm, centred tone of voice to encourage an open dialogue. Ensure that you’re really listening to what they are saying.” Be empathetic, and if you can, relate through a story of your own. “Storytelling is a powerful tool that can help people bridge gaps in communication,” says Joy. “Where you can relate, do it.” Plus, don’t assume that any issues from the last incident carry over to this issue—there may be new factors at play. Once you have heard their perspective on the issue or incident, work through the facts of what happened to find common ground. This can help avoid defensiveness and establish agreement between both people on what happened. “It’s important to avoid judging the situation. Remain neutral to get the facts,” says Joy. “Thank them for sharing and ask for their opinion on the matter.”
Find Common Ground
After the dialogue is going, mirror back what has been said. “Something as simple as repeating back what was said can help keep the conversation productive,” she says. “People need to feel like they are being heard.” Ask clarifying questions and acknowledge the person’s feelings. If they are appearing stressed, worried or angry, address it. Ask about their feelings and reassure them that this is a safe place to communicate. Now it’s time to paraphrase what was shared about what happened. Clearly summarize the discussion in one or two sentences.
Once you have established the facts and found some agreement on what happened, it’s now time to look for a solution together. “Again, avoid being judgmental,” says Joy. “Nothing creates defensiveness and shuts down open dialogue faster.” Instead, be open to what the person is saying, and remember there is more than one solution to a problem. “As leaders, it’s important to get to the root of the problem, break the cycle, and prevent more serious issues from arising,” she says. “Listen, ask questions, and work with them to find a solution that works.”
It’s here where leaders should look for the root of the problem. “You want to ‘prime the pump’ to keep the conversation going to find the solution,” says Joy. “Speak from the heart and be authentic. It may not be an easy conversation and you don’t have to have all the answers right away.” Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes, and that while you’re disappointed to be having this conversation again you want to work together for a solution.
Reach a Consensus
Finding agreement on what to do may not be easy, but don’t get stuck in the details. “When you are discussing how to address the problem, you may get caught disagreeing over some facts,” says Joy. Most arguments occur over five to 10 per cent of the facts. Focus on where you agree, and the smaller issues may fall away once trust is built.” We’re often focused on the negative, so be sure to acknowledge the positive. Also, making comparisons between yourself and the other person can help. It’s okay to have different perspectives and acknowledge them, but you can also see where they are coming from. Establish as much of an agreement as possible.
“Set a good example as a leader of your organization by addressing and raising sensitive safety issues with skill, respect, and a caring compassionate attitude that shows others in your organization how to do same. Make sure that you accept constructive feedback well, ask for feedback often, communicate authentically and vulnerably from the heart and handle negative feedback calmly with grace.” – Nadene Joy
After you have come to some agreement, it’s time to lay out what happens next. “Be clear about what they can expect moving forward,” says Joy. “You may not be totally happy with where you ended up, but now is the time to demonstrate your management of the employee and the problem.”
Set out clear expectations and consequences and remember that safety comes first always. Define next steps, actions required and timelines, and how and when follow-up will occur. “Record what happened, document the commitment and have both parties sign it,” she says. “Accountability is key.” Ensure any workplace policies and regulatory requirements are addressed properly.
Finally, leave the conversation as positively as possible. “Make sure the employee knows that you’re open to further discussions and that the trust built will continue,” says Joy. “Keeping the lines of communication open is vital for ongoing success.”
Nadene Joy is a top advisor, executive leadership strategist and global mindset coach who helps leaders, individuals, employees, business owners and families get unstuck, achieve their goals, live balanced lives personally and professionally and ac hieve their wildest dreams. She is a Certified CMHA Psychological Health and Safety Advisor, NLP Practitioner, mental health expert, Executive Coach, Speaker, and international bestselling author.