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Communicating Safety: Listening for Success

As a professional speaker there is an old saying, “We are not professional listeners.”  My wife Deb would be the first to verify that point and has many times in nearly 30 years of marriage.  I do work at improving my listening skills because I know that it is vital to success in anything I am doing.  As a pilot I have to listen closely to make a safe flight and be able to repeat back to the controller what they said to confirm that I understand.

Seek first to understand, then (seek) to be understood.

 – Stephen Covey

Listening is tough because as humans we think we already know what’s going to be said and our minds are made up.  This can lead to a mistake.  In the workplace a mistake can lead to an injury, so it is a skill that we should really be motivated to improve.

Practice certainly does make perfect and I want to encourage you to listen using the following tips.

  • Resist the temptation to respond immediately to something being said.  In your head you can begin to think about how the person speaking may be correct instead of incorrect and how what they are saying could lead to preventing injuries.  In high-risk work environment miscommunications can be a serious hazard.
  • Show interest in what is being said.  Cognitively nodding your head and resisting the temptation to respond with a statement can prevent confusion.  Practicing this skill can help you to ask great questions instead of making a statement of correction.
  • Ask questions to clarify what the person or persons talking are saying.  When we ask questions instead of making statements, our brains begin to analyze other options.  With regard to workplace safety, great questions can help prevent injury.
  • Feed back what you think you heard.  Try the question, “So if I have this right, you are saying…?”  This will give the person or persons the chance to clarify any misunderstandings and likely mitigate the risk.  Continue the feedback until you both have a clear understanding of the message.
  • Use the phonetic alphabet to give information that is important to get correct.  The following will help:  Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.  Learn these and insist that everyone use them and not change them.  Internationally, pilots have been using this system for many years and it works to minimize mistakes.

I read somewhere that improving communications will increase the chances of success by at least 70%.  Listening is a key skill that will increase the percentage and ensure a clearly understood massage.  One place to practice listening is during a tailgate job safety briefing.

Communicating the hazards and what can be done to mitigate the risk is the purpose of a job briefing.  During the briefing it is easy to get distracted by texting, holding side conversations, or just not paying attention.  During one job safety briefing at one of my client’s worksites an electrical worker failed to hear the warning that all the power lines had not been de-energized and grounded.  The warning was to not enter a specific area.  He didn’t listen and was killed leaving a wife and three kids behind.  Listening skills do matter.  Help others listen by asking for their feedback to ensure they heard and understood critical communications.

Take the time to stop and discuss the tips I shared and be honest with yourself.  How good are your listening skills?  Do you consistently think you already know what’s going to be said before the speaker finishes?  Are you good at asking questions to clarify understanding?  Improve your listening skills can lead to a safer workplace where it is difficult to get hurt.

Thanks, and Be Safe!

Carl Potter, CSP


Invitation to a training opportunity…

On December 1st, 2015 I will be conducting my Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop in Grapevine, Texas near the DFW airport.  I hope you will consider attending to learn and network with other safety minded individuals.  You can learn more about this opportunity at:

3 Responses to Communicating Safety: Listening for Success

  • Roger schnering says:

    As a fork truck instructor for drivers and pedestrians I always taught another form of communication. Visual communication making sure the driver and the person that is in the same area as a fork truck are on the page it may be as simple as a nod after eye contact. especially as a driver you make that communication when people are in your work area. far too often we are so involved in what we are doing we don’t think we just do our jobs and don’t look out for the other guy. communication is key to working safely no mater how you do it.

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