In module three, we learned about recognizing appropriate safety behaviors to improve employee involvement. In this module, we'll continue learning about increasing employee involvement through effective communications.
In an effective safety culture, employers promote a positive environment that encourages open-door all-way communication. Employee orientations, training, and meetings always include safety topics.
Effective communication is extremely important to the goal of increasing employee involvement in safety and health. Skilled safety communications will support leadership, at all levels, from the CEO to the employee. So, let's get started with a review of some basic communications concepts and principles.
A simple model of communication comprises a sender, a message, a channel where the message travels, noise or interference, a receiver, and interpretation and feedback.
The extent of the communication and characteristics of the sender and receiver may be quite different. For instance, communication may take place between individuals, groups, companies, and nations.
A simple communication process works like this: The sender communicates the message and the receiver receives and interprets the message. The receiver becomes the sender and responds to the message with feedback. It’s important to know that it’s actually the "tone" of the message more than the content of the message, that influences how the receiver interprets the message. It’s the interpretation that influences and determines the nature of the feedback to the original sender. We'll delve into this process more deeply in the next section.
Where and how the process ends depend on the purpose of the communication and the dynamics of the process itself. Even the simplest communication between individuals may be a very complicated process.
An important concept in communications is the Content-Relationship Model, which states that people always communicate on two levels: Content and Relationship.
The content level describes "what" is being sent. The information sent on this level is data, usually as informal spoken words or formal written material.
The second level of communication exists on a more subjective plane that affects the receiver’s thoughts and feelings and sets the "tone" of the message. The perceived tone establishes a positive, negative, or neutral relationship between the sender and receiver. Characteristics of the voice and body language combine to create the relationships.
Example: Data, the android on the Star Trek series, only communicates on the content level. As an emotionless "robot," he suffers from a basic flaw; failing to communicate on a relationship level. This flaw prevents him from understanding humans because he isn't able to "read" their emotions.
Let's look at two scenarios that illustrate how important it is to understand the content-relationship communications concept.
First Scenario: Gloria Pendergast is reading the morning paper while her husband, Charlie, is cooking up some eggs (They take turns cooking). Gloria suddenly looks up from the paper and asks rather flirtatiously, "Oh dear, when are those eggs going to be finished?" Charlie perceives he is receiving positive attention from Gloria and responds casually with, "Here they come now, dear," and brings her a nice plate of sausage and eggs, and gives her a big kiss.
Second Scenario: Charlie Pendergast is at the table reading the morning paper while his wife, Gloria, is cooking up some eggs for breakfast. Charlie, face buried in the paper and obviously irritated, verbally assaults Gloria with, "Oh Dear, WHEN ARE THOSE EGGS GOING TO BE DONE?!" Gloria, feeling hurt and unappreciated, slowly turns, fire in her eyes, and says, "Here they come now...DEAR!" and throws the plate full of eggs down on the table in front of him, and stomps off to the bedroom.
In both scenarios, the content of the sender's message was exactly the same. However, the relationship set up between the two in the second scenario differed greatly from that established in scenario number one. Consequently, the receiver gave a vastly different response.
So how does all this about communication fit into workplace safety and health? Let's look at three situations and the messages sent:
As we mentioned earlier in the course, ignoring others who are trying to communicate is the worst response possible. People won't care why they are being ignored: They just don't like it. They'll make all kind of assumptions about why they're being ignored, and be upset about it.
If you want to have better working relationships with others, always be the first to say "hi" when you meet them for the day. It sends a very positive message. It tells them you consider them to be important. I guarantee the result will be better working relationships!
If you’re a manager, supervisor, or safety committee member, what happens when you receive their concerns and suggestions but do not provide feedback in a timely manner? You are ignoring them.
Get back with your co-workers as soon as possible to let them know the status of their concerns or suggestions. This is probably your most important job as a safety leader.
Are your co-workers motivated to be involved in safety? If not, why not? Do they see little benefit from it? So how do you increase employee involvement in safety? Make involvement worth it. Understanding content-relationship communications helps solve motivating employee involvement in all aspects of your safety and health program.