Effective safety communication relies on well-developed skills. As a Manager or Leader, you must be able to balance time constraints and a heavy workload while managing other employees and projects, all the while keeping the communication channels open. Good communicators use listening techniques and nonverbal strategies to improve their conversations.
What you are doing in face-to-face communicating is taking what you want to say as it exists in your mind, converting or coding it into words and possibly gestures and sending the message in speech and perhaps signs. The receiver hears your words, and sees your gestures, and decodes them into what they mean to them.
Unfortunately, communication breakdown occurs more often than not and the sender’s message may be completely distorted by the time it is decoded by the receiver.
In this article, we look at the different types of safety communication commonly used across organisations, the barriers to effective communication, and five areas that you can work on to improve your verbal communication skills.
What Are the Key Components of Safety Communication?
There are several areas where companies undertake safety communication to ensure a safe workplace for their employees and visitors. These include and are not limited to:
- Safety audits – As you conduct your audit and the reports you produce you signal areas that are going well and those that need improvement.
- Risk assessment – When you regularly conduct your risk assessments you are actively communicating that safety is critically important.
- JSA’s and Take 5’s – These documents communicate your expectations around hazards and their control measures.
- Safety Inductions and Training – Your training is critical to your safety communication. The Safety Induction is where it starts and ongoing refresher training supports and reinforces your message. The Tap into Safety Training Platform can help you to move your induction and training online and on mobile.
- Prestarts, toolbox and safety talks – These types of safety communication are the chance to personally discuss successes and issues with your teams.
- Emails, posters and message boards – Visual communications continue to reinforce your efforts to create a safe and healthy workplace culture.
- WHS Legislation, codes of practice, guidelines, and the hierarchy of controls – Safety governance communications establish the non-negotiables and set the standards.
- Procedures and policies – Translate WHS Legislation into workable communication documents that prescribe desirable behaviour.
- KPI’s and performance appraisals – Assess your employee’s achievements and where they might perform better.
What Are the Barriers to Effective Safety Communication?
Some examples of the barriers to effective safety communication are where the receiver may have insufficient ability to understand what you’re saying. Distraction and noise may also stop your message getting through.
Misunderstandings may occur when we are at ‘cross purposes’ where the receiver makes their assumptions as to the meaning you’re trying to convey or jumps to conclusions. Also, differing viewpoints about an issue can result in someone failing to understand your way of seeing things.
Sometimes, fearful situations can distort what we see or hear. And finally, what you are trying to communicate may be overly complex and require them to hear or read something several times to gain understanding.
There are several areas to consider to make your verbal communication more effective.
Ensure Your Message is Clear
First, you should ensure that your message is clear. This means clarifying your ideas and thinking and planning before you speak or write. Your message must be simple and easy to understand.
Be sure of what you are trying to achieve and structure your communication to achieve this most economically and effectively. Don’t overload your safety communication with too many objectives, be concise, and make sure it is complete and correct.
Always, be mindful, while you communicate, of the overtones as well as the basic content of your message. And consider the long-term and immediate effects of any communication.
Consider the Physical and Human Setting
Second, consider the total physical and human setting whenever you communicate. Ask yourself if there are any circumstances or conditions which affect the chances of your safety communication being received and understood as you wish it to be. Are you in a noisy or distracting environment? If so, move to a better location.
Are you feeling stressed or emotionally overwhelmed? If you are, you’re more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting non-verbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behaviour.
To avoid conflict and misunderstandings, use stalling tactics to give yourself time to think before you reply. You could ask for a question to be repeated or for clarification of a statement before you respond. If the situation warrants it, you may be willing to compromise to find a middle ground.
Alternatively, you may say that we can agree to disagree or defer the conversation and physically remove yourself from the uncomfortable situation to let things settle down before you revisit the discussion. When it comes to safety communication, your message must get through.
See our article, Can Job Stress Lead to Shortcuts in Safety?
Focus on What You’re Trying to Say
Third, focus on what you’re communicating. You can’t communicate effectively when you’re multitasking. If you’re checking your phone, planning what you’re going to say next, or daydreaming, you’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues in the conversation.
To communicate effectively, you need to avoid distractions and stay focused and maintain eye contact. Your focus will help in getting the other person interested in what is communicated. As a Leader or Manager, all safety communication requires your complete focus.
Watch Your Body Language
Fourth, be aware of your body language. If you disagree with or dislike what’s being said about your safety communication, you might use negative body language to rebuff the other person’s message, such as crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact, or tapping your feet.
You don’t have to agree with, or even like what’s being said, but to communicate effectively and not put the other person on the defensive, it’s important to avoid sending negative signals. You need to remain open and attentive.
Also, your body language should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel that you’re being dishonest. For example, saying “yes” while shaking your head no.
Less Talking, More Listening
Fifth, effective safety communication is less about talking and more about listening. You need to become an active listener. Listening well means not just understanding the words or the information being communicated, but also understanding the emotions the speaker is trying to convey.
Try to understand the other person’s point of view, listen and watch for evidence of reactions and attitudes. When you’re an active listener, not only will you better understand the other person, you’ll also make that person feel heard and understood, which can help build a stronger, deeper connection between you and support your organisation’s safety culture.
Finally, follow up on your safety communication. This may involve checks to see that instructions have been carried out correctly, or it may result in freedom to question and discuss, or it may mean a two-way ‘feedback’ of the message.
If there seems to be a disconnect, reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” or “Sounds like you are saying…”. Try not to simply repeat what the speaker has said verbatim. Instead, express what the speaker’s words mean to you and ask questions to clarify certain points: “What do you mean when you say…” or “Is this what you mean?”
As a Manager or Leader, your communication skills impact those that you work with, so it important that you think about how you communicate and listen. Nowhere is this more important than in your safety communication to support your efforts to keep your employees safe and well. Fortunately, for most of us, improving our communication skills is an ongoing process.
This article is also available on the Tap into Safety podcast.