Course 700 - Introduction to Safety Management

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Element 4: Effective Communication


Good communication increases involvement.
Good communication increases involvement.
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In module three, we learned about the importance of recognizing appropriate safety behaviors to improve employee involvement: the third element of a world-class safety and health management culture. In this module, we'll continue learning about increasing employee involvement through effective communications.

Providing an open, positive environment that encourages open all-way communication about safety and health is critical to a successful safety management program. It's important to design multiple communication pathways including orientation, instruction, training, meetings and open-door policies.

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.

Return to Sender

We are senders and receivers when we communicate.
We are senders and receivers when we communicate.
(Click to enlarge)

A simple model of communication consists of a sender, a message, a channel where the message travels, noise or interference, a receiver, and interpretation and feedback.

The scope of the communication and characteristics of the sender and receiver may be quite different. For instance, communication may take place between individuals, groups, companies, nations, and sometime in the future - maybe - between worlds.

Although the scope of the communications process may expand, the process still boils down to a sender and receiver communicating over various channels.

Here's how it works: the sender initiates the message and the receiver receives and interprets the message. The receiver, now, 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 it is interpreted by the receiver. It's the interpretation that determines the nature of the feedback to the original sender.

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.

Content vs. Relationship Communications

We always communicate on the content and relationship level.
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Another important concept in communications is the Two-Level Theory which states that in any communications process messages are sent and received on two levels.

Content - What is said

The first level is called the content level and describes what is sent. The only information transferred at this level is data, usually in the form of informal spoken words or formal written material.

Speaking of data... Data, the android on Star Trek only communicates on the content level. If you are familiar with this character you know that the failure to communicate on a relationship level prevents him from becoming more like his human counterparts.

Relationship - How it is said

The second level of communication exists on a higher, more abstract plane. It's called the relationship level which describes the communication that establishes the relationship between the sender and the receiver. It is how the message is sent that sets up the relationship. Relationships between sender and receiver are always established with every communication. Generally the tone of voice and body language combine to set up relationships.

Back to Star Trek (the original series): James Kirk, the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, always communicated on both the content level and relationship level, while Mr. Spock, our favorite Vulcan, also tried with some difficulty to communicate, but he could only do so on the "logical" content level. Consequently, he always appeared cool, calm, cold, and mechanical, and he also found it hard to relate with humans.

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

It is not what you say, it is how you say it.
It is not what you say, it is how you say it.
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Let's take a closer look at the dynamics of content - relationship communications:

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 and 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.

I'm Okay - You're Okay

Are you OK? Do you even exist?
Are you OK? Do you even exist?
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So how does all this fit into workplace safety and health?

Every time a 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? On the other hand, if a supervisor yells at you for "complaining," a very negative message is sent. But, I think the worst situation occurs when you are totally ignored by a supervisor. It sends a message that you are invisible, unimportant, and of little or no value. Ignoring others who are trying to communicate is the worst response possible. People won't care why you are ignoring them: They just don't like being ignored. They'll make all kind of assumptions about why they're being ignored, and be upset about it. Here's a tip. If you want to have better working relationships with co-workers, always be the first to say "hi" when you meet them for the day. Always be first. It sends a positive message.

Important Responsibility!

Ignore committee members and this will happen.
Ignore committee members and this will happen.
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If you are a safety committee representative, think about the relationship set up between you and your co-workers. What happens when you receive their concerns and suggestions, report them to the safety committee, but fail to provide feedback in a timely manner? Aren't you ignoring them? Again, it's the worst of all possible responses. Make sure to 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 committee representative.

Imagine, workers competing to be on the safety committee.

Are your co-workers just "dying" to be a member of the safety committee? Most likely not. Why not? They really don't perceive much benefit from it, do they? So how do we increase employee involvement in the safety committee? Well, that's one of the subjects discussed in OSHAcademy Course 701, Safety Committee Operations. But for now, it's time for you to take this module's quiz. Good luck!



Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. The words we speak when talking with another person is the __________ of the message. The tone of voice we use is likely to establish a ____________ between the sender and receiver.

2. Which communication level has the greatest impact on the receiver?

3. According to the text, this behavior probably sends the most negative message to another person:

4. What was given as the "tip" for improving your work relationship with co-workers?

5. According to the text, if your suggestion box is continually empty, the most likely problem is:

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.