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.
I frequently get questions from you, which I love because it turns you, a nameless faceless listener statistic into a real life human being, with a story and emotion and successes and challenges.
I learn a lot from the reflection you stimulate when you ask questions, and I learn a lot from the kinds of questions you ask too.
So here is a little experiment, for the first time bringing you the Q&A between a real listener, and I. This was over email, so it wasn’t a rollicking exchange, but hopefully helpful nonetheless.
We’ll begin with what the listener wrote to me:
I hope this finds you well.
I’ve been having a look through your Safety on Tap episodes and was hoping you could help narrow my search
Do you have any episodes that are focused on improving/changing methods of communication between company departments? Company culture change and team building to improve interdepartmental relationships?
When it comes to physical health and safety, we have a very good culture here and I feel everyone is on board and supportive of all that needs to be done to maintain and improve on this from the top to the bottom of the company. When it comes to metal health and psychosocial health and safety I feel there are pockets of people who do not register this as a workplace issue or see it as something that is an issue for us here. There are a number of ongoing relationship problems where interactions and communications between some staff do not go to the extent of harassment or bullying, but are consistent and toxic enough that the parties involved often experience mental health related outcomes – often these are fleeting or “in the moment” and people move on, but I am concerned about on going and repeat instances of this and worried about how this cumulative exposure to these problems can have a longer term effect on an individual, a department and the company as a whole. I’ve already seen signs of people taking sides and resentment building between people and departments (“us and them” rather than “all for one and one for all”). Obviously this is something I need to work towards changing but it is quite a complex issue, especially when you are dealing with people’s emotions. Methods used to deal with a physical safety risk don’t work as well for these issues – “That ladder is unsafe – don’t use the ladder” is a much easier conversation to have than “your language in emails is perceived as rude or combative – change your use of language”. One thing I’ve found is that often the person writing is just being themselves with no intent to be rude and the person receiving it reads it based on their preconceived notion that the person they are dealing with is being intentionally rude to them. The fix isn’t as simple as asking one person to change the way they are operating, it requires change on both sides and perhaps a change to the operating systems and surrounding culture. I understand that this is what is needed to start to see change, I just don’t know where to start or how best to sensitively approach this.
If you have any Safety on Tap episodes that you think discuss these topics I would greatly appreciate it if you could point me in their direction!
And the listener signs off their email.
Here is my reply:
Great to hear from you. Apart from a lingering chesty thing courtesy of the kids, I’m superb.
Thanks for giving me a really good run down of the challenge you are facing. I’ve got a few thoughts which are each anchored in specific podcast episode which might help. I don’t have any episodes which specifically address the questions you opened with, so let’s entertain the possibility that there might be other questions you could ask, or perspectives you can take 🙂
When it comes to interpersonal interaction and relationships, and the potential for them to become a ‘psychosocial hazard’ (which is an atrocious phrase I don’t really use much), Episode 39 with Carlo might give you some language to use. We specifically talked about whether ‘safety’ approaches can be used for psychosocial risks, and we had a difference of opinion on that. Instead of having an answer, you might have a similar conversation internally if your objective is to help your internal stakeholders join the dots between what they ‘get’ about safety and what’s missing for them when it comes to mental health.
Episode 40 follows this nicely, with Catherine Mattice. Her work focusses a lot on bullying and inappropriate behaviours in the workplace, but in that conversation she introduced a really useful concept ‘incivility’. This is the ‘little’ things which, as you describe, begin to become toxic, cumulatively in both individuals and spreading across people and workgroups. If you have a challenge about specific people’s awareness of the impact of their words/actions (versus a more general problem), this episode will help.
Following that, if your focus is on specific people, you might want to think about HOW, and WHAT kind of feedback could help improve the situation. Are you providing feedback directly? Are the (unhappy) recipients providing feedback? Are there line managers who can and should be involved in the feedback process? This episode gives you one possible structure for feedback, you could use that to coach some of these individuals.
But some people don’t have the level of self-awareness, emotional intelligence etc to engage actively in a feedback process. In that sense, as Cat Mattice quoted from Forbes Great Workplaces, “it’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting”. You are able to influence how people act like a ninja!
In terms of dealing with the broader problem of emotional/mental harm/ill health, episode 106 will bring help to tie this together for you. This discussion talked about what it means to deal with conflict vs disputes (the language matters, they are different), and the difference between approaching this in a retributive way, vs a restorative way, vs a transformative way. The focus on transformation is powerful, because it addresses the harm that has/is occurring, but opens up a massive upside opportunity to make the whole workplace so much better! Heaps of research on employee engagement (ie look up Forbes, or Gallup) clearly talks about how great workplaces are built on strong healthy relationships and good communication, which translates into improvements in productivity, employee retention, quality, customer service, innovation etc etc.
In terms of getting started, that’s simple. Get started. There is no play book, no process to follow. Take one of the ideas from the above podcasts, and put it into action. You will get feedback, directly or indirectly, which will guide your next steps.
Let me know how you go
And this is the response I got back from my reply:
This is fantastic! Thanks Andrew
I’ll work my way through the suggested podcasts and see where that takes me
Have a great weekend
Now in preparing for this podcast, I reflected some more, and realised I had missed something important. This is what I sent back to the listener:
I forgot about episode 83 with Kate Russell on conflict management. Heaps of great perspectives on prevention vs management of conflict, the cost of doing nothing, and universal features of conflict. Whilst you might not have an explicit conflict problem on your hands, this will still give you some great insights. Listen to that one right before or after episode 106.
What do you think?
What sorts of things came to your mind when you heard the original email?
What did you think of my response, my reflections?
Did you notice how the listener began, as so many of us do, faced with a problem, and grasping even at the right questions to ask? We see symptoms of a deeper issue, so what are we to do? We often try to make sense of these situations by using labels, or containers for things – communication, culture, team building, relationships.
The use of these labels or containers suggested first, the listener wasn’t entirely sure what was at play here, and second, being open to different perspectives. Thinking and action about communication is quite different to thinking and action about culture, though they are intertwined. I love that this person conveys their openness, honesty, vulnerability and curiosity.
So the question they asked, is basically, ‘can you point me in a helpful direction?’. Not ‘can you give me solutions’, or even ‘can you help me diagnose this’. The question implied that the listener was taking responsibility for their own development and learning in an unclear situation, and entertaining some responsibility for influencing a better future state in this sticky situation. That wasn’t said, it was implied, I’m making a confident assumption about that.
This is fundamentally a joining the dots episode. This is how a large majority of my work goes, whether it is providing specific advice when requested for advice, or coaching an individual or a team, or facilitating a learning team, or facilitating some other kind of group activity.
I rarely have the answer to the question outright. In fact it’s becoming rarer and rarer that I am asked questions with straightforward ‘right’ answers. Maybe because there are no shortage of people and resources and information with right answers for those kinds of questions. I find that the impactful stuff, the deep work, and evidently the people and questions and work that I attract, doesn’t have right answers. They involve better questions, reflection, humble inquiry, and experimentation.
And there is an obvious potential limitation to my response, which was constrained to Safety on Tap podcast episodes. I did this in part, because that’s what the listener asked for. It was also in part because I was able, to my satisfaction at least, join enough dots together to help the listener make progress. If I was drawing blanks, then sure I would have pointed to other resources. In a way I was challenging myself and what I am curating with every episode. Of course confirmation bias could very well be at play, lest I find myself shoe-horning my stuff into a differently shaped problem or question. So yes, I may be biased, and there are heaps of other things to consider. But we’ve made a start.
I’ll riff some more in the next episode about joining the dots, there is a lot more for us to explore in that can of worms.
On that note, here is another part of the experiment. If you have something to add to my response, head over to safetyontap.com/ep121 and post a comment. You can re read the email exchange there too. Even if you disagree with what I’ve said, that will be helpful! I will let the original listener know to go there when you post a comment, to add to the discussion. You can also grab a copy of the full transcript of this and every episode there, at safetyontap.com/ep121
Also if you haven’t already, check out the Safety Clutter Scorecard, and get your free personalised report over at safetyclutter.com
Safety clutter is the accumulation and persistence of things done in the name of safety which has nothing to do with safety, even indirectly. It’s not just benign either, it’s been proven to be downright dangerous. Every organisation has Safety clutter, so the question is not whether it exists in yours, but rather, as a leader who wants to grow and drastically improve health and safety, what are you going to do about your safety clutter problem? Visit safetyclutter.com to learn more.
Before you go, a personal message. I want to thank you if you have ever told another person about the Safety on Tap podcast. I am in service of leaders, like you, who want to grow, and drastically improve health and safety along the way. Ideas that spread give us all a better chance of that happening, in more organisations and more places around the world. So thank you if you have shared something which was helpful enough to you, you wanted someone else to hear it. That is a gift to them, and a gift to me. So, if, and only if you get value from the podcast, whether that’s the whole thing or a single episode, please share it – because, in the words of the inimitable Seth Godin, people like us, do things like this.
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!
Here’s your FREE reflection worksheet from this episode.
Feel free to share this with your team/colleagues!