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Course 707 - Effective OSH Committee Meetings

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

Handling Problem Situations

Disagreement and Conflict

Don't be surprised if and when, during some part of the meeting, an argument or heated exchange between members occurs. When this happens, discussion may quickly degenerate into name-calling and judgment, so it's important to fall back on the ground rules to stop the escalation of heated exchanges.

Words Have Effect

Dealing with Difficult People - Colleen Kettenhofen

As we've mentioned before, the purpose of the safety committee meeting is to come to a decision about what works vs. what doesn't work. And, it's important to use those terms. It might be interesting to discuss some terms that raise a "red flag" during the meeting. As soon as the chairperson hears any of the following terms, it's important to intervene:

  • bad or evil
  • wrong or incorrect
  • stupid or dumb
  • lazy or crazy
  • ridiculous or idiotic

These terms above, and others like them, may point the finger of judgment about an idea, but the underlying implication is that the person, rather than the idea, is flawed. The implication may be further strengthened by the relationship message reflected in the tone of voice used.

1. What should the chairperson do if someone starts name-calling in a meeting?

a. Ignore the remarks
b. Restate the ground rules
c. Apologize to the offended person
d. Remove the offending person

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The Expert - How to Draw a Red Line

Conflicts in Meetings

Conflicts in meetings can be very disruptive. But they can also be very helpful. Remember, conflicts are disagreements. If the person who is disagreeing with you is raising valid questions, it may benefit the group to address the issues they are presenting. In fact, by listening to them, you may gain valuable insight into what is and what is not working within your organization. However, if the person continues past the point of disagreement to the point of disruptiveness, specific steps should be taken.

Below is a list of conflict resolution tactics that you can use for meetings that get "out of control."

  • Find some "grain of truth" in the other person's position that you can build upon.
  • Identify areas of agreement in the two positions.
  • Defer the subject to later in the meeting to handle.
  • Document the subject and set it aside to discuss in the next meeting.
  • Ask to speak with the individual after the meeting or during a break.
  • See if someone else in the meeting has a response or recommendation.
  • Present your view, but do not force agreement. Let things be and go on to the next topic.
  • Agree that the person has a valid point and there may be some way to make the situation work for both parties.
  • Create a compromise.

Source: Texas Center for Women's Business Enterprise

2. Which of these statements reflects the most appropriate way to respond to a suggestion during a safety committee?

a. "I think your idea is most likely right/wrong."
b. "I think your idea just might work/may not work."
c. "I feel you must be wrong/stupid to suggest that."
d. "You must be just plain evil/bad."

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Conflict resolution is an art and science.

Rules for Disagreeing Diplomatically

Regardless of the type of conflict you are dealing with, there are several general guidelines you should follow whenever you are trying to bring harmony to a volatile situation. Here they are.

  • Acknowledge the behavior by describing it without evaluation: "I see you don't agree with what's just been said, is that right?"
  • Reflect your understanding of the other's position or opinion: "Let me see if I understand what you're saying..." This says, "I am listening to your opinion and I take your opinion into account before I state mine."
  • Let others know that you value them as persons even though their opinions are different from yours: "I understand (appreciate, respect, see, etc.) your opinion/idea." This says, "I hear you and respect your opinion."
  • Legitimize the validity of the feelings behind the behavior: "You may have a good point", "I know how you feel", "I've felt that way myself", "but I've found that..."
  • Gain agreement to defer decisions: "Are you willing to let others express their opinions on the matter?" If the disruptive member does not agree to defer, then intervene gradually. Start with a subtle, unthreatening approach. However, if unsuccessful, then proceed to:
    • Thank him/her, and move on to next person.
    • Close to his/her location (invade space) and confidently thank him/her. Move on.
    • Restate ground rules. If he/she can't comply, they are free to leave.
    • Take person aside for private conversation.
  • Becoming a good conflict manager requires a lot of practice. Just remember that the goal is to reach a compromise that both of you can live with as well as be happy with. In other words, find a way that both of you can walk away feeling like a winner!

3. Which conflict resolution tactic can be used successfully when meetings get out of control?

a. Ignore areas of disagreement
b. Tell them they are simply wrong
c. Get agreement to defer decisions
d. End the meeting early

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Too Little and Too Much Participation

Find out why there is a lack of participation.

Problem situations in a meeting may have something to do with the level of participation of individual members: when they participate too much or too little in the meeting.

Too much participation: Other members may not be able to fully participate in meeting activities when an individual member is too vocal.

Over-participation may occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • strong interest in the topic
  • naturally enthusiastic and talkative
  • strong desire to control outcomes (not a "team player")

Too little participation: When a safety committee member does not participate in meeting activities, their valuable input may be lost. The chairperson may not be able to accurately assess the degree of consensus that's taking place when members are silent.

Lack of participation may occur for several reasons, including:

  • lack of confidence
  • nervous about expressing ideas in front of others
  • no interest in the topic
  • may want the meeting to get over more quickly
  • belief that their input doesn't matter

One theme throughout all OSHAcademy courses is that, "for every effect, there is a cause." Each of these reasons for over- or under-participation above represent an effect which has a cause. It's important for the safety committee chairperson to determine the cause for these behaviors. Only after knowing the cause, can the solution be found. A personal talk with the committee member can help find the cause.

4. What is the most likely reason a safety committee member may participate too much during a meeting?

a. Lack of confidence
b. Strong interest in finishing early
c. Disinterest in the topic
d. Desire to control the outcome

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Mind Mapping - Another tool to identify problems

mind mapping
Click to Enlarge

Mind Mapping is simply drawing boxes and lines to help you quickly think about and categorize ideas, problems, concepts, subjects, and just about anything else. Mind mapping is successful because takes advantage of the brain's natural ability to categorize ideas in a rapid, but unorganized manner.

Look at the mind map to the right. At the center we write the problem. Then, try to think of the factors that are more obvious causes for the problem. (This works best by letting your subconscious do the work while you watch TV or work on another project.) Next, take a look at each factor listed and ask why that particular cause exists. After a while (minutes to hours) you will build a diagram similar in form (but not content) to the one below.

Using this technique, you will be able to take any topic, project, or problem and quickly determine related categories, processes, procedures, etc. Once the mind map is complete, it is merely a matter of reorganizing the information into the more common outline format.

5. Which technique is successful because it takes advantage of the brain's natural ability to categorize ideas in a rapid, but unorganized manner?

a. Brainstorming
b. Mind Mapping
c. Fishbone diagramming
d. Consensus building

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Click to Enlarge

Fishbone Diagram

Another tool similar to the mind map is called the Fishbone Diagram or "Cause and Effect" Diagram. Basically, it's just a mind map using a different form that reminds users of a fish with bones. The diagram has two sections: The effect and the causes.

  1. Effect. The "effect" is described using a problem statement. A problem statement might be: "Increased number of accidents in the maintenance department."
  2. Causes. The "causes" are represented by the arrows and boxes. Generally, the cause categories might be personnel, materials, equipment, environment, management, and miscellaneous methods/procedures.

    As you can see in the diagram above, the large horizontal arrow pointing at the accident represents the surface cause(s) that directly caused the accident event. The six categories pointing to the surface cause arrow represent the possible root causes that might have somehow contributed to the accident.

Using the fishbone diagram is important because it forces the investigator to consider root causes, and the vast majority of accident investigations, when properly conducted, will uncover one or more root causes for an accident.

6. Why is it a good idea to use the fishbone diagram when conducting accident investigations?

a. Fishbone diagrams are easy to draw and use
b. It focuses on the surface causes for accidents
c. OSHA requires the use of the fishbone diagram
d. It forces you to consider the root causes of accidents

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.

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