Safety Culture Excellence®

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The Lost Art of Listening

April 9th, 2014

The late Stephen Covey said that one of the habits of highly-effective people is to “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”  Most safety programs do exactly the opposite and are therefore not highly effective.  Leaders and safety professionals decide what is needed and deploy new programs and processes without consulting the very people who know the issues in the field, and will ultimately determine the success or failure of new initiatives.  Organizations regularly hire consultants to analyze their problems and the consultants get the information to do so directly from the organization’s employees.  A good consultant is a good listener first and a good problem solver second.
But listening is more than just hearing sounds.  It begins with setting the right tone for the conversation.  There must be a non-threatening and respectful atmosphere in which the listening can take place.  There also needs to be an honest and frank expectation of how the information will potentially be used.  Skepticism often arises from past interviews or surveys from which no action has been taken.  Enough of this kind of skepticism can render the conversation useless.

Sometimes, the right questions need to be asked to spark the right discussions and discover the underlying issues.  When issues emerge from the discussions, they need to be probed and understood more fully. That means that the right questions need the right follow-up questions as well.  The whole process can build upon itself once those interviewed realize that their input is being valued and can potentially lead to improvements.  Listening is ultimately empowering people by taking them seriously.

-Terry L. Mathis

Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, an international safety and performance excellence firm. He is known for his dynamic presentations in the fields of behavioral and cultural safety, leadership, and operational performance, and is a regular speaker at ASSE, NSC, and numerous company and industry conferences. EHS Today listed Terry as a Safety Guru in ‘The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS in 2010, 2011 and 2012-2013. He has been a frequent contributor to industry magazines for over 15 years and is the coauthor of STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence, 2013, WILEY.


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