Safety is about so much more than numbers. It's about people—protecting, engaging, and motivating them.
Communication is one of the most valuable skills any professional can have, but for safety professionals, it’s critical. Without effective communication, you can’t spread essential information - you can’t manage employees from younger generations and you certainly can’t mitigate harmful trends like workplace bullying.
However, you don’t need to be an extrovert to be successful as a safety professional – you just need to know how to communicate effectively. Here are a few things that will help improve your communication skills, regardless of who you’re dealing with.
Ironically, one of the most important skills in communication isn’t talking. It’s listening - active listening, that is.
The better you are at listening, the better you can understand what someone else is trying to convey, both implicitly and explicitly.
The difference between plain listening and active listening is a demonstrated engagement with the other person. Active listeners don’t just wait for the other person to stop talking; they digest what the other person is saying, ask specific questions, offer verbal affirmations, and demonstrate genuine concern.
This is an especially useful talent in a safety professional, as employees often come to you with safety concerns but may not be saying everything directly. Active listeners are engaged with the conversation on a deeper level, picking up on cues to find out what isn’t being said in a situation.
Understand Communication Styles
However, successful active listening also requires a certain understanding of various communication styles.
No one style is necessarily better than the other, but they are distinct and each have their own pitfalls that must be handled in order to engage each communicator successfully. People are generally one of four types of communicators:
- Dominant communicators are conversational bulldozers. They dominate the conversation and often believe they’re never wrong. And if they are proven wrong, this can create complications that serve to alienate the other party.
- Passive communicators, however, can be just as much of a turn-off as dominant communicators. These are the folks who are meek and indirect, more inclined to remain quiet (and fester silently) rather than speak their mind or advocate for themselves. There’s a significant amount of frustration and mistrust attached to passive communicators, as you rarely know where you stand.
- Passive-aggressive communicators are also indirect, but unlike passive communicators, they make an appearance of agreeing with others while giving subtle barbs, making sarcastic remarks, and facilitating backstabbing. It’s all about appearances, which fosters poor organizational trust.
- Safety professionals should strive to be empathetic communicators, who interact as conversational equals. They listen to others’ opinions genuinely and offer their genuine opinions in return, viewing the conversational and decision-making process as a collaboration.
Learn to Disagree
There will always be times in life when you can’t see eye-to-eye with someone else. The most successful professionals are those who master the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable, who know how to challenge without riling feathers or sacrificing diplomacy.
The problem is that many managers have a bad habit of screening out those who disagree with them, which means they never learn how to disagree productively. But you only get an organization of committed, thinking people when you view challenges and dissent as a chance to learn and grow as an organization.
Boosting Communication Skills Takes Practice
Above all, remember that improving your communication skills takes time, practice, and a lot of patience.
Everyone has bad conversational habits. The first step is becoming aware of them, both in yourself and others. Once you’ve managed that, you can leverage that awareness to communicate more effectively with others.
It won’t be easy, but the positive results for your safety culture will be worth it.
And if you need more tips on how to manage safety more effectively, don’t forget to check out our blog.