Course 700 - Introduction to Safety Management

Element 4: Effective Communication

Good communication increases involvement.
Good communication increases involvement.


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.

1. Employee involvement in safety will increase when the employer encourages communication that is _____.

a. one-way
b. all-way
c. top-down
d. bottom-up

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Return to Sender

We are senders and receivers when we communicate.
We are senders and receivers when we communicate.

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.

How it Works

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.

2. What has the greatest influence on how a message is interpreted by the receiver?

a. The content of the message
b. The "tone" of the message
c. The impact of the message
d. The length of the message

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Content-Relationship Communications


An important concept in communications is the Content-Relationship Model, which states that people always communicate on two levels: Content and Relationship.

Content - What is said

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.

Relationship - How it is said

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.

3. In the content-relationship communications model, the first level of communications that describes the data sent is called the _____.

a. relationship level
b. fact level
c. content level
d. feeling level

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It's not what you say, it's how you say it

It is not what you say, it is how you say it.

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.

  • In the first scenario, Charlie sent a positive relationship message.
  • In the second scenario, the relationship message was very negative. To the receiver, how the sender sent the message had far more impact than what was said.

4. According to the content-relationship communications model, why may the response from someone receiving the same message be so different?

a. How the message was sent establishes a different relationship
b. What was sent in the message encourages a different relationship
c. The message may require a different response
d. The message is not sent directly to the receiver

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Are you OK? Do you even exist?
Are you OK? Do you even exist?
(Click to enlarge)

I'm Okay - You're Okay

So how does all this about communication fit into workplace safety and health? Let's look at three situations and the messages sent:

  • You're OK: When the supervisor recognizes an employee for safe work behaviors, it reinforces and makes that behavior more likely to occur in the future. It sends a very positive message, doesn't it?
  • You're not OK: On the other hand, if a supervisor yells at an employee for "complaining," a very negative message is sent. The complaining may continue, but probably not in front of the supervisor.
  • You don't exist: The worst situation occurs when an employee is totally ignored by a supervisor. It sends a message that employee is invisible, unimportant, and of little or no value. After a time, the result is a very unmotivated employee.

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!

Ignoring others who are trying to communicate is the worst response.

5. Jack's supervisor walked up to him and thanked him for wearing fall protection. What will Jack's behavior likely be in the future?

a. He is more likely to continue to wear fall protection
b. He will forget fall protection equipment
c. He will not come to work
d. He would quit his job

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Ignore committee members and this will happen.
Ignoring co-workers increases apathy.

Important Responsibility!

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.

Imagine Motivated Employees

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.

6. What could potentially be your most important job as a safety leader?

a. Selecting employees who may talk during safety meetings
b. Ignoring complaints you believe to be unimportant
c. Responding to co-worker concerns as soon as possible
d. Reporting all employees who don't work safely

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.