Words matter! Good communication is essential for any company to succeed. Bad communication can result in disaster. Dialog begins with two seemingly simple steps, talking and listening. I say seemingly, because I observe people all the time speak what they think is clear and plain language, yet others have trouble comprehending what was said. Listening isn’t always so easy. We often translate in our minds what we think we heard someone say; often, we are mistaken.
For example, one day my wife asked my daughter to put the dishes in the dishwasher. My daughter did just so. However, a couple of hours later my wife asked her why the dishes were dirty. My daughter replied, “You said to put them in the dishwasher. You didn’t say anything about washing them!” Now my wife tells her to please start the dishwasher. My daughter does what she was asked to do. A while later, my wife asked my daughter why the dishes were dirty. My daughter replied, “you told me to turn it on, you didn’t say anything about putting soap in it!”
Obviously, this story underscores why clear interaction is so important. My wife was clearly missing the mark in making her wishes understood; my daughter clearly failed to realize what my wife saying. You could say well use a little common sense!
The problem is that common sense isn’t so common. What might make perfect sense to you, might not make sense to someone else. We all have different thought processes.
The oldest known ancient construction project of perhaps the first skyscraper ended abruptly in disaster as a result of instant language barriers. Workers speaking a variety of languages eventually all went their separate ways instead of completing the project. I am speaking of the Tower of Babel.
How a company formally and informally speaks about safety through words and actions can have a significant impact on the jobsite safety climate. Effective safety-related messages can create a strong, positive climate, while poor communication can stifle it. Don’t forget to take into consideration any employees who primarily speak another language.
I described earlier a scenario where two people that speak the same language have difficulty exchanging specific ideas. Imagine how much more complicated this can be with other language groups. Extra effort must be made with these groups to talk clearly (convey your message in a way they understand) and listen to their concerns. In the U.S., 30% of construction workers are Hispanic; many of them are limited in English.
I have the unique niche of having both a language service company and being a bilingual safety consultant who converses in both Spanish and English.
Part 2 will discuss ways to improve communication.