3 Ways Active Listening Can Make Your Workplace Safer

Mike Hart Vice President of Risk Management insights on workplace safety

Many people think that within their company, there is a failure to communicate. “Not really,” says Mike Hart, Vice President of Risk Management for Verst Logistics. “Most of the time it really is a failure of listening,” he says. Hart has more than 25 years of experience in safety, he’s improved safety operations process at three companies. The importance of listening is one part of what Hart shared during an expert panel that came together to discuss how to engage employees each day to improve safety. Hart was joined on the panel by Cathleen Snyder, Director of Client Relations strategic HR Inc. and Matt Hess, Director of HR HGC Group of Companies. Here are three of the top lessons on better workplace listening from Hart.

#1. Improve Your Active Listening in the Workplace & You’ll Improve Your Culture

Effective communication involves debate, discussion, and disagreements. Those are a part of healthy, constructive dialogues that build relationships, says Hart. And, being able to have meaningful conversations certainly contributes to a healthy and safe workplace culture. But to have effective two-way conversations, first we must listen with intention. Active listening is the foundation of healthy and productive two-way conversations, says Hart, which he can’t emphasize enough. In addition to listening with our ears, there are other ways to demonstrate listening. Appropriate body language, making eye contact and through facial expressions, a manager can demonstrate that they are actively listening to their team member. “Listening helps us find and identify areas of agreement. We must first understand, and then give feedback to those we’re speaking to,” adds Hart.

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#2: Active Listening Can Change How You Respond to Incidents

Effective listening helps in many ways, but primarily it helps to find out or to learn new information, to see another point of view, and to uncover what hasn’t yet been revealed. If an incident occurs in the workplace, we can see this being true in application. When applying active listening after an incident happens, consider three steps to support better overall communication: 1. Gather general information. First, says Hart, you want to deliberately ask and listen for information that can help you get a general sense of context. Allow the person to give any aspect they choose about the subject. At this stage, this is beneficial because it also helps us to defer judgement, too. That could sound like: “Tell me about what happened, before, during and after the incident.” Be aware and mindful of non-verbal cues, at this point and throughout your conversation. 2. Begin to narrow in. As you practice active listening, allow the person to continue without interruption, when possible. Based on their response, narrow in on the subject to get more details from them, says Hart. That may sound like: “Why were you driving in that direction?” 3. Close in on the details. As you pay attention and show that you are listening, now it’s time to ask for confirmation, denial or a very short answer. “Did you operate your vehicle while using your cell phone?” When necessary, be sure to ask questions to clarify certain points. By repeating what was said, a manager can demonstrate actively listening skills and that they understand the message. It also helps demonstrate empathy, which makes for an open, trusting and transparent work environment.

#3. Better Listening Can Improve Many Areas of Safety Performance

The primary cause of incidents includes behavioral, physical, systems or processes, says Hart. And, this method of cooperative conversation can help you better determine which of those causes is at play if an accident or unplanned event occurs. But Hart explains that this combination of listening and questioning has many benefits and promotes safety across the organization, not just after an incident happens. Not only does it promote candor, but it creates energy and supports openness and less defensive postures. Engaging in conversation this way can also:

  • Cut down on misinterpretations or false assumptions
  • Broaden discussions and increase information that is being shared
  • Create opportunities for involvement
  • Create opportunities for shared learning
  • Increase empathy

And of course, actively listening helps more than just safety. It helps engage employees and build a work environment where people feel valued.  And when managers demonstrate active listening skills, then the team typically emulates them.

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