I am passionate about what I do and what I believe, especially safety. At times, I even “get on a soapbox.” At these times, I have been likened to a caricature of a Baptist preacher leading an impassioned congregation. In the context of safety talks that are often described as monotone and boring, this can be refreshing, but for some, it could be a turn-off. Thus, as I’ve matured in my career, I have been trying to show this passion differently, while still maintaining authenticity, energy and appropriate humor that are demonstrative of my passion for what I believe and most often know to be true. Like a finely tuned symphony, I want to take the listener on a journey of emotion consistent with the message I want to resonate long after I’ve left the stage or training room. This cannot be done if I am overzealous in my approach. The same is true for any safety manager or supervisor who is trying to “preach” safety to his or her crew or organization.
Zealous is defined as being “full of or characterized by fervor for a person, object, or cause.” And, while “fervor” is not a bad thing, an over-dose of it can be. In fact, to be overzealous can cross the boundary into “dogma,” which is often perceived as “prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group.” In my experience “dogma” implies right versus wrong. However, little in the safety world is quite that cut and dry. As a result, when our zeal is seen as dogma, we create a defensive response in our “audience” as a natural byproduct of people’s desire to maintain consistency in their thinking and protect their self-esteem. This is particularly true of those who don’t see “eye-to-eye” with your point of view. Being overzealous and dogmatic might work with those “in the choir,” but, it rarely converts people.
By contrast, we should be passionate about what we believe. This passion can be an asset, especially when built on a foundation of “caring.” Passion is defined as: “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling.” Given that a majority of people make decisions emotionally and then back up these decisions with logic, showing passion for what you believe has its benefits in convincing others to accept and even start to believe the same. Indeed, when our passion properly shines, it can compel or “convert” people to our point of view. When this passion comes from a foundation of caring, we demonstrate “compassion,” which is defined as: “concern for the sufferings or misfortune of others.” In the case of safety, this is manifest as an anticipated concern that others might suffer as a result of not “buying into” or accepting our message of injury prevention.
What’s the differentiator? It’s the source of motivation for the message. Those who preach safety out of “self-interest,” or a desire to ensure compliance with the rules to keep regulators at bay, tend to be dogmatic. Those who share the message because they care about people (because it is people that make the organization successful) are compassionate. It is compassion for others that persuades better than logic or dogma. In the end, passionate people who care are willing to go through a process to test out what they have learned. They also embrace a philosophy of continuous improvement. Zealots tend to jump on the next bandwagon about which they get excited without engaging in a process to obtain deep knowledge about the subject. As a result, zealots are most often temporarily committed, abandoning what they believe today for the “next best thing.” Passionate people are long-haulers. Compassionate people are long-haulers who care. This is something to think about the next time you give a safety talk or provide feedback in the field that is intended to help someone avoid injury or death.
I have maintained a successful Behavior-Based Safety consulting business for more than 20 years. In that time, many mining companies have jumped on and off the Behavior-Based Safety bandwagon in search of the next best thing. Those with whom I remain in contact that have stayed the course continue to perform in safety (and even other areas of their operations) much better than the industry averages. Those who have abandoned the approach see much more variable performance when measured objectively. How does your mine site’s safety performance stack up? Please send me feedback at the email address below.
“Indeed, when our passion properly shines, it can compel or ‘convert’ people to our point of view.” — Thomas E. Boyce, Ph.D.