One of my summer jobs was working at a busy warehouse, filling wooden pallets with various orders of canned fruit or juice products. Forklifts then loaded the pallets on a trailer for shipping.
I remember the day I filled out the employment application. The job was on second shift. It was hard to find anyone who wanted to work these hours, so I was hired. The woman from human resources asked me if I could start working the same night. I showed up 30 minutes before my shift for orientation. While I don’t recall everything that was said, the supervisor’s safety expectations were memorable. The speech from Lyle went something like this:
“Most of these guys have been working here for more than 15 years. So ask them anything you want to know. The work isn’t that hard, but you can expect to get a few minor injuries before the summer is over. Nothing serious – maybe a gash from a box cutter or a sore toe from a case that is dropped accidentally. No open-toed shoes, by the way. There’s a first aid kit in the break room. If you need something more than a bandage or ointment, come see me. Now look, the number one thing you need to remember is that those guys running the forklifts are moving fast. The sooner we get these trucks loaded, the more time we all have at the end of the shift to relax. So stay clear of them at all times. They have the right-of-way in the aisles. Any questions?”
What questions would an 18-year-old ask? I had none.
Imagine you are part of a team that has been assigned a particularly difficult maintenance job. It will take three craftsmen at least eight hours to complete this task. Your supervisor (Jeff) is coordinating a long list of planned jobs as part of a large shutdown. Before you go to the work site, Jeff provides a pre-job brief:
“OK, guys – listen up. We have to replace the large pump in the northwest corner of the basement. As you know, it’s in a very tight space with no head room and there isn’t much ventilation or lighting down there – so make sure you hook up a fan and some temporary lighting. This is a critical path job, so I need you guys to get started on it ASAP. The guys on the production line will be waiting on this job before they can start back up. We’re behind on shipping customer orders, so there’s some heat from upper management to get in, get out, and get running. Don’t take any more time than is necessary to get the pump changed out. Keep any breaks to a minimum. I know you guys always work at a good pace. That’s why I teamed you up on this job – to get it done quickly. I’ll be checking on the job every hour to see if we are on schedule. If you need anything, get me on the radio and I will rush whatever you need to the work site. If you run into any problems and aren’t sure what to do – use your judgment and do whatever takes the least amount of time. I know I can count on you guys to get this job done right and on time. I gotta go … but don’t hesitate to yell if you need anything!
Family doctor visits usually have one of two purposes: either you are having a routine check-up to make sure that everything is okay with your health (preventive care) or you have an illness and your doctor wants to find the cause (diagnostic care). We can use health care as a metaphor to consider the approaches that we take when having a safety conversation.
A doctor who is diagnosing an illness or disease relies upon a series of questions and tests. If she suspects heart disease, for example, she may inquire about the patient’s smoking, eating, and exercise habits. She will also want to understand the patient’s family health history. These provide clues that may support her initial diagnosis, which can be confirmed with further testing.
Using this analogy, many supervisors and managers focus on providing diagnostic services when it comes to safety. After someone has an injury, they ask a series of diagnostic questions, aimed at determining why the injury occurred.
What were the factors that may have contributed to the injury?
All of us know about the importance of giving and receiving feedback. If the goal is improved behavior or performance, effective and timely feedback is essential. Most of what we read on this topic is focused on how to give feedback. There is considerably less advice on how to get useful feedback from others.
Most of us are not well equipped to receive feedback in a way that encourages people to be truthful. The person giving the feedback can easily be dissuaded from sharing the truth with you. The difference between receiving qualified feedback versus unvarnished feedback is determined by your reactions to the person who is giving the feedback. Without an honest assessment, it is difficult to change our personal behaviors that target our weaknesses.
Peter Bergman recently summarized some key actions that the receiver of feedback can take which will significantly increase the likelihood that the feedback will be useful. According to Bergman, there are five ways that we can improve the way that we receive feedback.
In what situation are you likely to hear someone ask this question? Perhaps an associate in a retail clothing store would use this phrase to offer some assistance. You could hear this phrase from a librarian while looking for a book or reference. Maybe you have called a customer service number to ask about a recent purchase.
However, would you expect your manager to inquire, “How can I help?” when you walked into his or her office? I wouldn’t.
Equally important, do you use this question as the opening for many of the discussions with your co-workers or those who report to you? Upon reflection, I only occasionally offered these words to my direct reports during the course of my career.
“You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”
– Dale Carnegie
Observing two people who are arguing can be fascinating. I’m not talking about a discussion or a debate – but a genuine argument. If both persons hold widely different perspectives and the conversation devolves into arguing, reason and common sense become secondary. Emotions take over. Most times, the result is a stalemate. Neither person leaves with any sense of satisfaction – and the issue remains unresolved.
One technique that improves the chances for a more positive outcome from a disagreement is the Ransberger Pivot. It is a communication principle that is used to find common ground with an opponent. It is defined as a debate technique (first described and utilized by Ray Ransberger and Marshall Fritz in 1982) in which a person attempts to find common ground with another person they are trying to persuade. The proposed method deploys three stages:
Listen to the other person’s objections and try to understand what they are really concerned about.
Understand the other person’s objections and validate how they feel about the issue.
Find a common goal in the other person’s objections and convince them your way is a viable solution to the agreed problem. Use facts and share your view on a solution to what you agree is the problem.