Effective communication is extremely important to a successful safety committee meeting. The most basic communication theory talks about the requirement for both a sender and a receiver in the communication process.
The characteristics of the sender and receiver may be quite different. However, during the safety committee meeting, at any given instant, the process basically involves people sending communication messages on two basic levels: the content and relationship levels. Let's take a look.
The Two-Level Theory of communications states that, in any communications process, messages are sent and received on two levels.
The relationship message is actually received first, and determines the reaction to the content received. Once the relationship is established between two people, it greatly influences the subsequent content of their communication. For instance, in the short video clip to the right, an adversarial relationship is quickly established that greatly influences the content of the messages sent.
Click on the next section to take a look at two scenarios that further illustrate this very important concept.
First Scenario: Charlie Pendergast is sitting at the breakfast table happily reading the morning paper while his wife, Gloria is cooking up some bacon and eggs. Charlie, suddenly looks up from the paper and asks rather flirtatiously, "Oh Dear, when are those eggs going to be done." Gloria interprets his tone (flirting) as positive attention and responds in like manner, "Here they come now, sweetie," and brings Charlie a nice plate of bacon and eggs, and gives him a big kiss.
Second Scenario: Charlie Pendergast is sitting at the breakfast table, face buried in the morning paper, while his wife, Gloria, is cooking up some bacon and eggs. Charlie, obviously irritated, verbally assaults Gloria with, "Oh DEAR, when ARE those eggs GOING TO BE DONE?!" Gloria interprets his tone (impatience) and feels hurt and unappreciated. She 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.
You'll notice that, in both cases, the content of Charlie's message was exactly the same. However, due to the tone of his voice and his body language, the relationship set up between the two in the second scenario differed greatly from that established in scenario number one. Consequently, Gloria gave Charlie a vastly different response in the second scenario. In the first scenario, Charlie sent a positive relationship message. In the second scenario, the relationship message was very negative. To Gloria, how Charlie sent the message had far more impact than what he said.
Remember, you get what you give. When communicating with another safety committee member, it's not what you say, it's how you say it. When you experience someone reacting negatively to something you've said, it's probably because you may have somehow sent a negative relationship message.
Be enthusiastic. We're not talking about wild enthusiasm, but an active interest in what's going on in the meeting. Encourage active discussions.
Ask open-ended questions. This technique works best to determine what people think, how they feel, and what their opinions are.
Actively listen. Active listening requires each person to listen to and then restate the statement in their own words, emphasizing the feelings expressed as well as the substance. The purpose is to confirm that the listener accurately understands the message sent and acknowledges that message, although the listener is not required to agree.
Well-managed safety committee meetings allow members to participate, and feel part of a decision. Reaching decisions involves looking for common ground and building upon a series of small agreements. There are many decision making methods. Some common methods are outlined below. When choosing any of these methods, consider that the degree to which individuals "buy into" an agreement depends on how much ownership they have in the decision making process.
Majority Rule. This requires group members to consider options, discuss pros and cons, and vote. Participants agree that the group will adopt the option(s) that receive a plurality or majority of votes cast. Majority rule works best when the group has demonstrated a willingness to work together cooperatively, and when no one is so heavily invested in one or more options that they will not abide by the group's collective decision.
One-liners. The chairperson of a large safety committee might say: "You've been listening for the last half hour, and I appreciate your patience. Before going on, let's find out what is on your minds. Let's have comments from anyone who wants to speak, but limit yourself to one sentence."
The one liner technique provides members of the committee a chance to find out what everyone else is thinking. Members get a number of abbreviated opinions instead of one or two long speeches. The one- sentence limit may seem like an imposition, but once this pattern is set, each person will make a point of being clear and concise.
A survey. Ask for a show of hands to determine what members think about proposed ideas, to decide what to do next, and so on. Even this minimal level of participation gives people the opportunity to express a thought, feeling or opinion.
Small group discussion. Small group discussions generate ideas and enable everyone to participate in a smaller group setting. In a small group session, about four to eight people talk for a short time on an assigned topic. A person should be assigned as recorder to make lists of the group's quick conclusions. The groups then return to the main group with their ideas. In this way, small group interactions alternates with the diversity of the larger group.
Brainstorming. Brainstorming is a well-known procedure for generating a large number of spontaneous ideas in a short period of time. No criticism is allowed during the session. Quantity is what the group is after, not quality. From the great number of ideas generated, the group can later select those of interest. Be sure to choose a person to record all ideas on a flipchart or blackboard briefly and accurately for everyone to see. Seeing others' ideas will generate even more ideas by "piggy-backing" off the ideas of others.
Questioning. As mentioned earlier, the most effective questions are usually open-ended. Open-ended questions stimulate thinking, and rethinking. Questions allow for reflection. The Chairperson or member, by posing questions, encourage the group to focus on something, rethink a course of action, or evaluate options.
Consensus decision-making. Making decisions by consensus is the cooperative development of a decision that members agree with, or at least can live with. Sometimes, consensus means that each and every person involved in decision-making may have "veto" power, but be careful with this idea. A more workable policy might be to allow the person who strongly objects to a consensus decision to "opt out." That person would not be required in taking action on the decision. It's also important to find out why and give considerable thought to the concerns expressed by the dissenting member. He or she may have a legitimate concern that others do not see. Consensus means considering all concerns and attempting to find the most universal decision possible.
The basic steps for consensus decision-making include the following:
Choose a decision making method. If the group decides to reach a decision through consensus, select a back-up method if the group cannot reach consensus;<
Identify and process possible solutions, brainstorm, clarify ideas, group similar ideas together, rank and select options;
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