Much has been written about effective communication, but my preferred definition is the sharing of information between two or more individuals in which the intended information is properly transferred.
In the safety space, effective communication is profoundly important, and the cost of ineffective communication is high. If the sharing of information is not clear, mishaps, accidents, injuries, and deaths can happen.
Communication is part of every phase of a work family member’s job experience even before the person joins the company. Consider:
Job Description – The job description that alerts the candidate to the opportunity should include safe working expectations as the start of setting the foundation for the organization’s safety culture.
From my 30 years of experience, the best job descriptions include information about the hiring company’s safety culture to help identify the suitability of the candidate to the culture.
Interview – The interview should include discussion points on the candidate’s personal safety experiences, philosophies, and special safety capabilities (e.g. First Aid Provider Certification). The interview is also an opportunity for the interviewer to share the company safety culture and values and to ask questions about how safety situations have or would be handled by the candidate. Asking the right questions and listening to how a candidate responds help to set the tone for the company’s safety expectations and to identify the right people.
Onboarding – The start of a new job is perhaps the greatest opportunity to make an impact and ingrain the safety culture onto a new work family member’s mind. Discussing safety expectations, processes, and behavioral norms should be part of new work family member onboarding. Along with other company policies, fundamental safety training is provided at onboarding because that is part of creating that first impression for the new work family member about the company. Onboarding is one of the most significant experiences that a person will remember in their work life. I can remember the first day and first week for all my roles.
On the Job training – On the Job Training (OJT) is important because it takes what a new work family member learned in the onboarding program and makes it applicable to what happens in the actual work place. I remember being onboarded as the Director of HSE for anoil and gas contracting service company that included my predecessor sharing all oftheir knowledge and learnings with me to support my success. Effective communication includes making clear what is expected and what isn’t.
Scope of work – Aligning discussions on what work is to be done is very important no matter the work (e.g. simple – complex). Who, What, Where, How, When, and especially the Why, are very important. Getting alignment and understanding on the scope of workdoes not happen on its own. Completely aligned scope of work happens by design through job descriptions, contract agreements, standard operating procedures, signs or labels, collaborative meetings, conversations, work permits, and at the job verbal checks and last minute safety assessments. The first thing I’ll ask for during job safety assessments, accident investigations and risk analyses includes all the documentation that describes the scope of work.
Coaching, mentoring, and performance reviews– Work family members should get continuous check-ins on how they understand what’s been communicated about the work that is to be done, how it is to be done safely, and how they are performing in working safely. Initial check-ins are coaching sessions because there is a developing relationship, but after a while those check-ins become mentoring sessions. I have leaned on coaches and mentors my entire life for sports, being a firefighter, a safety professional, and as an executive business partner. We can all use a coach or mentor in some aspect of our lives and that relationship is based on being able to communicate effectively.
Effective communication elements:
Actively listening to others is vital to the effective communication process. Listening with an open mind, understanding what the other person is saying, and showing confirmation that you are hearing and feeling that what they are sharing is important.
Being approachable means that others feel comfortable and motivated to engage with you. Effective communication can’t happen if the sender of information isn’t seen as approachable. Being approachable means that work family members feel you care about what they have to say, you respect them as individuals, and you’ll actively listen to them. I met an electrician at a safety conference many years ago who, when I told him I was a safety professional, asked me “Are you the Safety guy people like to see coming or hate to see coming”? In other words, ‘was I approachable…?’
Displaying empathy or sympathy, where appropriate, is very important in effectively communicating with others. Empathy involves seeing things from others’ points of view. Sympathy is being able to relate if you’ve had the same or very similar experience. Effective communication in the safety space is dependent on the appropriate application of empathy and sympathy.
Using emotional intelligence and responding to others’ emotions, while acknowledging your own, is important to communicate effectively. Failing to use emotional intelligence can lead to ineffective communication. Body language can send messages that are unintended (i.e. crossing arms, frowning, looking beyond the communicator, and others).
Safety communication is typically persuasive, across three levels:
Logos – Logically appealing to the work family member to listen and embrace the communication (i.e. Providing facts, data, and accident reviews)
Pathos – Emotionally appealing to the work family member to listen and embrace the communication (i.e. Connecting the accident to a personal story)
Ethos – Ethically appealing to the work family member to listen and embrace the communication (i.e. 10 out of 10 safety professionals agree effective communication is profoundly important in preventing accidents)
In the safety space, effective communication isn’t just best practice, it is profoundly important. If the sharing of information isn’t clear, and any feedback isn’t listened to, mishaps, accidents, injuries, and deaths can take place. Effective communication can save lives.