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Engage for Understanding and Use Common Sense

By Carl Potter, CSP, CMC

In a recent presentation I was given a compliment from a participant who said he liked the way I engaged with the audience and used humor and real situations to make a point concerning safety leadership.  In our discussion he said it is usually hard for him to stay awake during some safety presentations unless the presenter is funny or uses some sort of humorous YouTube video.  I appreciated the kind words but challenged him to focus on what he could learn and less on the presenter’s ability to hold attention.

One of the most memorable presentations I heard was years ago by a man named Edward Deming when I was learning about continuous quality.  Many of you will remember Deming as the Father of the Quality Movement in the United States.  The Japanese people revered and still do revere Mr. Deming for how he helped them be successful in manufacturing.  Dr. Deming was not the most eloquent of speakers and I would not even call him dynamic, but because his audience wanted to learn from the master of quality they paid attention.  He was an amazing man when it came to quality improvement.

I am not saying that being a captivating speaker is not a great skill, but a greater skill is learning to listen for greatness.  In many companies I work with there are individuals who are extremely bright and sometimes what they say is pure genius to me.  Sometimes I walk away from a meeting smarter because an employee who is passionate about seeing coworkers go home uninjured has made a presentation.  Most of these people are not humorous or spellbinding but I learn because I pay attention.

I would like to challenge you to pay attention the next time someone is making a presentation and you think, “ugh,  this person is boring me”.  Take notes, ask questions and engage with them to learn what it is that they are teaching.  Sometimes the presenter is only as good as the listening ability of the audience.  Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this presenter so that I can be just a bit smarter than what I was before they started?”

When my daughter and son started college I explained to them that many of their professors would be talking with their back to them, writing on the board with one hand and erasing with the other.  Some of your classes will have hundreds of people in them and you will find that your responsibility for learning is to pay attention and focus on what is being taught.  Several times they said that I was right on target.  What they noticed was that it really didn’t take much to focus when they made up their mind to learn something in that short time of the presentation.

If you adopt an attitude that your learning is your responsibility and not the teacher’s, a miracle will happen – you will learn.  Information today is so easy to access and is available in so many forms that it boggles the mind.  Focus on what you need to know to be successful.  The next time you attend a safety meeting take the responsibility to focus on learning one key thing from the presenter and not to be the judge of the speaker’s ability to keep your attention.  The key to creating a workplace where nobody gets hurt is applying the rules, best practices, and reasonable application of safety procedures.  To do this, you must have the knowledge and understanding that we could call common sense.  Use some common sense and apply what you’ve learned for safety success!


Are you a candidate for our Safety Think Tank in San Diego – We will come together on December 6th at 3:00 PM sharp and meet the next day from 8:00 AM – Noon, then 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, and wrap-up on Friday from 8:00 AM – Noon.  If you are a person who can implement changes to improve your organization’s safety culture you will be glad you attended.  No sales people please.  This is an open forum to find creative ways of improving safety cultures.  Just people interested in thinking safety with other committed safety professionals please.

For more information email Carl Potter, CSP at: to schedule a conference call to see if you are a fit for the Safety Think Tank.

One Response to Engage for Understanding and Use Common Sense

  • Carl Taylor says:

    well written article, I will use this when I have to listen to a speaker in the future, I will also share this message with my crew, hopefully it will help me and my crew. thanks.

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