Tribe Culture Change | The difficulty of speaking up
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The difficulty of speaking up

The difficulty of speaking up

Most people, most of the time act safely. Whether that’s doing a specific task or whilst going about their daily lives. This means that we have lots of opportunities to catch them at it and deal with them accordingly i.e. give some praise, thanks and recognition where appropriate.

Mouth taped up


Yet we all allow ourselves to be distracted from time to time, become complacent or slip into bad habits and take a shortcut or choose to behave unsafely. And it’s at this time that we have to rely on our observant friends, colleagues, workmates or passers-by to bring this to our attention.

Far too often that friend doesn’t say anything to keep us out of danger. Why not?

Often we find it difficult to speak up when we see someone acting unsafely. People come up with a number of reasons for this, including the following:

“I don’t know what reaction I might get – they might react badly”

“I don’t really understand the job they’re doing – I might look foolish”

“I just haven’t got time to stop”

“I don’t really know what to say”

Let’s deal with these reasons

The reaction you get will almost certainly depend on the approach that you take. The aggressive response is just a defence mechanism to overcome the embarrassment or perceived threat.

So to ensure you don’t create this feeling in the person you approach show a degree of humility as well as sincere concern for their well-being. If someone sees that you genuinely care they’re unlikely to have a go at you.

Not really understanding the task being done presents a fantastic opportunity to show that humility. You have the chance to ask the really obvious questions – handing control over to the person to whom you’ve approached.

“I haven’t got time”

We have got time. Time is a given, a constant; how we choose to use it is what changes. We allocate time to what we value and what is important to us. So putting the phrase into the translator we get back “It isn’t important to me, I’ve got something more important to do.”

Have you ever noticed how often people complain that they don’t have the occasional 5 minutes to carry out a safety conversation, but as soon as an accident occurs we always find the hours or days required to conduct the follow-up investigation. Amazing!

Not knowing how to approach someone is a genuine concern, which is why it’s important that people do have some basic skills and get the chance to practice.

What is needed is a simple and flexible structure to follow. Simple because we don’t need anything complicated. Flexible because every person and every situation is different. Yet, structured to make it easy to ensure we cover off the important elements.

When faced with a situation that requires you to approach someone doing something unsafe consider the following points:

  • Think about your approach and how you come across
  • Consider how you would want to be approached
  • Demonstrate that you care
  • Be realistic and sensible
  • Show empathy and understanding
  • Be positive and don’t apologize

“I’m really sorry, but can I just have a word?” sets the wrong tone, suggesting that you’d rather not be having the conversation

And if someone does snap back at you? Well big deal, at least you’ve tried and the snappy individual will probably still think about what you’ve said anyway.

I’ve heard some great examples recently of experiences and how they were handled. It would be great to hear about any situations you’ve found yourself in.

Please share them in the comments below.

Nick Wharton
Nick Wharton
nick.wharton@tribecc.com