Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.
Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way. Welcome to you, you’re in the right place. If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.
Regular listeners will know I took a short hiatus from the podcast after episode 116, only a few weeks ago, to spend more time writing. This writing was in the form of emails, to my email subscribers, as a form of reflection after the Safeguard Conference I spoke at in NZ a few weeks ago. Have a listen to episode 116 if you haven’t already and I’ll fill you in on why.
I’ve had a surprising number of people ask me over this time, what is it like writing vs podcasting. Writing vs podcasting. It’s an interesting question, and it makes plenty of sense. I am a regular podcaster, and I paused that to do writing. Writing vs podcasting.
Which got me thinking about a bunch of other versus.
Health and safety versus something else. This is often the discussion when it comes to priorities in a business, a project, or a decision. Is health and safety the priority, or something else?
Telling versus showing, speaks to the difference between explaining something and enabling someone to experience something. Lots of training suffers from telling versus showing. I facilitated a learning team style workshop recently with a bucketload of people who hadn’t ever been exposed to something like that before, and I realised the massive difference between telling versus showing people what a learning team experience is like.
On the topic of telling, another one is telling (or talking) versus listening. Two ears, and one mouth and using them in that order. This one is a common criticism of frustrated leaders – I told them, and the result is not what I wanted.
Leading versus following. This is a classic one when I’m coaching people, most people want to lead, which naturally leads to discussion and reflection about what it means to not lead, to follow.
Fast versus slow, or brief versus detailed. Almost always these two versus imply something about quality, but which one is quality depends on the person using it. Fast and brief can be seen as quick and dirty, sloppy, under-cooked. But equally, they can be seen as agile, flexible, focussed. Slow versus detailed can be seen a thoughtful, robust, but flipped they can equally be perceived as lagging, old, verbose or cluttered.
A common one I get in the context of the speaking and conferences and workshops I do, is planned versus impromptu. A keynote is planned, but the Q&A afterwards is impromptu. A panel discussion has planned questions, but impromptu responses. Right?
You’ll all know this one. You vs me. Us vs them. Safety versus management. Management versus workers. White collar versus blue collar.
Versus comes from the Latin word for turned towards, or against. This versus that. This against that. One against the other.
Versus came into frequent use in the English language when it was used in its abbreviated form, vs, to separate the two or more parties involved in a legal argument.
Versus has become such a common way of talking and thinking in the English speaking world, because it is to seductively straightforward. Our overloaded brains rejoice at the prospect of having to consider and make sense of two perspectives, one against the other.
But versus creates a couple of challenges for us.
First, life is almost never one thing against another, it is never that simple to boil down to two sides, two alternatives.
Second, the result of pitting perspectives, ideas or people against each other, remembering against is the English meaning of the word versus, is that we miss the point entirely, we miss the opportunity to make the world a better place because we fail to see the third and fourth and infinite alternative perspectives, ideas or people involved in the oversimplified this versus that.
A nice way to visualise this is using the old Venn diagram from high school mathematics. Versus looks like two circles, side by side, and the distance between them is where the versus lives. These are mutually exclusive things, never to co-exist.
But reality is more like multiple circles, three or more, which overlap, creating numerous areas of where more than one idea, perspective or person can co-exist. A Venn diagram of two circles has one overlapping area. A Venn diagram of three circles has four overlaps. Four circles has nine overlaps. And at this point I’m sure you get the geometric pattern, and also realise that simple 2D circles quickly reach the limit of their effectiveness when attempting to represent the multi-perspective reality of everyday life.
Which brings us back to versus. Versus is a trap.
When those people asked me about writing versus podcasting, the question itself missed so much nuance. What was similar about writing and podcasting, and what was different. What I was hoping to achieve by making the decision to write instead of podcast for a brief period.
And so it goes with the other examples. Health and safety versus something else, as a priority, suggests that you can only achieve one and not the other, which we know is not correct. It also fails to explore what it means to prioritise health and safety or other things, does this mean the processes we label health and safety or is it sympathetic to ideas like health and safety is an outcome of work, or an inherent property of work systems?
In telling versus showing, I used the example of a learning team exercise for people never exposed to it before. I had concerns that we had a little too much telling involved before we did the showing, and on reflection realised that if we hadn’t done the telling at the start we would have probably had a poorer result in the practical showing them what’s involved.
Leading versus following. Have you ever experienced a time when you were a follower, but needed to step up and lead? Were you being responsive to the situation, or simply sticking to the role or title or label you thought you had? Do you know of people who are meant to be followers, in a structure where there are appointed leaders, yet the leaders are more like managers and the true leaders are dressed in followers clothing?
Fast vs slow and brief vs thorough, well I already talked through the fact that you can evaluate either of these alternatives in the exact opposite way to someone else, simply because we are missing the context and each perspective? If I had a dollar for every time someone implied or outright said that decluttering health and safety involves simplification and reduction, or being brief – this is simply not true, it is dangerous to think that, and misses the point. The Safety Clutter Scorecard gives an example of this.
So let’s blow this up with one final versus. This is transaction vs transformation. If you want to reduce your cognitive load, to believe in imaginary simplicity, and to spend your time fighting battles, versus is your friend. Fill your boots with versus.
But people like us, don’t do things like that. That’s why you are here. My guess is that you are more interested in transformation. You get the messiness, the infinite number of circles in a Venn diagram. You might be able to win a versus argument, but you want to transform the thinking, relationships, and impact you have.
To do that, we need to change our thinking, and our language. So my encouragement for you is this. Take out versus, and replace it with a comma. This works for the English language, so I’m keen to hear other people’s experience if it doesn’t have equivalence in other languages.
Any time you see THIS, COMMA, THAT, you know that there is something else, you learned that in fourth grade grammar.
It could be one more thing, it could be more.
I want you to listen for and be ruthless with your use of versus, and instead, replace it with a comma and search for the additional perspectives, ideas, and people who are necessary for you to have transformative impact.
Don’t just do it yourself, explain it to other people, explain why safety versus production, us versus them, telling versus listening, is a crappy way of framing the challenge, and then explore the alternative ways you can appreciate the real challenges with which you are seeking to engage.
The podcast is back, and the writing will continue. And when I put a comma in there, writing, podcasting, AND…..who knows what else I have in store to help you grow, and drastically improve health and safety along the way.
If you aren’t already, jump onto the email list over at safetyontap.com/episodes, so you don’t miss out on any of the growth-fuelling gold coming from Safety on Tap headquarters.
Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!
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