Ineffective communication is often the root of personal and business problems. Recognizing that successfully connecting with others is a fundamental skill of compelling performers is essential.
Effective communication is just one aspect of a successful and enduring safety program. However, merely conveying a message like sending an email, talking during a safety meeting, or posting on a bulletin board does not guarantee knowledge transfer, behavioral change, or results. It only ensures that some documentable information-sharing activities have taken place. At some point, many people have been handed a safety document and asked to sign it, indicating that they have read and understood the information provided.
This process is known as a "receipt of safety communication."
During a review of an executive's incidents, training, and communication effectiveness, the executive shared the following with me: "I don't understand. I trained him on that equipment earlier this year, and I have the documentation to prove it."
"Moreover, the supervisor presented me with the signature of the employee who signed off on the updated procedure during the safety meeting held last month after the process change. Therefore, I need help comprehending how the employee got injured when adequately instructed on what to do. Does any of this scenario seem recognizable to you?"
A leader who meant well faced a frustration often shared by many of her colleagues. As an English poet, G.K. Chesterton once said, "It is not that they cannot see the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem." Many of us face difficulties in making improvements, not because of our lack of skills in forward-thinking and problem-solving but because of our inability to define the problem accurately.
The real problems are the following:
Communication is a crucial aspect of training that is often overlooked. Many safety training programs focus solely on sharing information rather than incorporating effective communication practices. However, communication should be considered a foundational training component, as it is the vehicle for information, not the final destination.
The effectiveness of training cannot be judged solely by the audience's perception of the trainer's capabilities or the content of the training. Instead, it should be measured by how well it impacts the trainees' knowledge and behavior and how this ultimately affects company performance.
Communication is not a one-time event but a process that involves both the sender and the receiver. It is not enough to send information once and assume it has been received and understood. Effective communication requires both parties to be fully engaged and receptive. For example, emailing does not guarantee that the recipient will read or remember its contents. To illustrate this point, try to recall the details of the last few emails you received from your direct supervisor.
"Obtaining a signature for receiving a message only guarantees documentation. Simply asking someone to sign a document without discussing and validating whether they have understood it does not ensure knowledge transfer, change in behavior, or results. It only provides documentation, which is not the ultimate goal of effective communication.
We all have experienced the problem of believing we communicated something successfully, yet the person on the other end did not comprehend it entirely. George Bernard Shaw once said, "The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred."
Regarding safety, we should not work based on assumptions or illusions. If people cannot recall elements of your message, did communication occur? Therefore, we aim to validate the effectiveness of our safety communication by testing for comprehension, observing behaviors that reflect the communicated message, and measuring how these two areas contribute to overall performance.
Effective communication has been proven to contribute to gains in all areas of operational
performance. Improving safety communication will add value to culture and performance, but it is also the right thing to do."