Techniques Safety Leaders Can Use for Difficult Conversations: Part 1
Safe behaviours and safe actions should be part of the everyday routine in workplaces. However, people are, well, people. Despite the best intentions and training, unsafe behaviour can still occur even in most safety-focused organizations. As a safety leader, how do you address safety issues with specific individuals? We reached out to coach and consultant Nadene Joy to learn how to have those hard talks in a productive, meaningful way that effect positive change.
“Good communication is key, first and foremost,” says Joy. “It can be hard to bring up a tough subject after an incident, near-incident or unsafe action, but it has to be done. The trick is to create rapport and trust, instead of confrontation.” The manager needs to use active listening techniques and clear speech and look for “why something happened” instead of simply “what happened.” Joy says the first 30 seconds will set the tone of the conversation, which can either create an open dialogue or close the door on anything productive. “Simple things like warm eye contact and using the person’s name can create instant connection,” says Joy. “You want to create a space for dialogue that is open and honest.”
Open-ended questions that ask for the employee’s perspective on the incident can help break the ice. The idea is to gather valuable information instead of a surface understanding of the incident, and the word “how” can help delve into the matter. “Asking questions about ‘how this could have been prevented’ can help open people up instead of putting them on the defensive.”
Joy also recommends relating to the employee through storytelling. “If you can refer to other incidents or anecdotes that are relevant, it can help create the safe feelings that will allow the person to open up,” she says. “Also, don’t forget to focus on the positives.” Be sure to point out how the employee has done good work and accentuate their good habits. Talking about only negative things will keep the conversation closed and unproductive. As well, discuss collaboratively how the issue can be avoided in the future with a coaching, not punishing, frame of mind. “Appreciating the employee’s feedback and approaching the resolution with coaching will make people more receptive to guidance.”
She notes how people are more likely to react more positively when they know they are not the only person to have experienced something. By conveying stories about similar things that have happened, people are more likely to open up and share what they are feeling. Stories can also provide important proof on how vital safety is, and how avoiding unsafe actions is important for everyone. “If people can learn about real-life incidents that apply to their situation, they are more likely to engage and make changes. Stories are powerful because they are relatable.”
After the incident, it is important to ensure that the issue does not become an ongoing problem. You can hope that it is just one-off incident but don’t assume that one chat is enough. Be sure to note with the employee that you will check to see how they are doing. According to Joy, follow-up should not feel like policing. It should be presented as a caring manager ensuring their employee has the skills and knowledge that they need to do their job safely. If there is an issue, the employee should know they can come forward to discuss it. Keeping the lines of communication open all the time can prevent incidents in the future.
If It Happens Again
In the next issue, we will examine part two, where we discuss what to do when unsafe actions become an ongoing problem.
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 achieve 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.