When employees and managers are fully ‘on board’ with a safety management programme, it makes managing risk easier. Winning hearts and minds is essential for safety teams – but it has long been a challenge… until the recent pandemic. Safety experts suddenly found themselves in the C-Suite, helping to guide businesses’ Covid response strategies. Health and safety became a regular fixture on the board meeting agenda, and leaders prioritised their teams’ mental and physical health.
But with the urgency of the Covid pandemic receding, health and safety is no longer a priority, and professionals are once again having to think smartly about convincing organisations and workers to take safety seriously.
Lessons in persuasion
Are you a health and safety professional at loggerheads with your organisation, trying to convince colleagues to prioritise risk?
Then Dr Robert Cialdini – known as The Godfather of Influence – has some powerful insights on how to persuade managers and employees to take safety seriously.
Speaking at the American Society of Safety Engineers Safety 2012 in Denver, he outlined six key principles of persuasion and how they can be deployed by safety professionals.
Principle 1. Reciprocation
We are much more likely to say ‘yes’ to those we owe. If you have provided safety resources, benefits and information for your colleagues in the past, they are more likely to want to ‘give back’ and do things that make your job easier.
Principle 2. Scarcity
There is power in outlining what is at stake if risk procedures and processes aren’t followed. If people think they could lose something of value, they are motivated to prevent that happening. So try spelling out what could happen if teams don’t get ‘on-board’.
Principle 3. Authority and trustworthiness
Being seen as trustworthy is essential when you’re trying to persuade. But to appear credible and knowledgeable, you may want to consider admitting the weaknesses in your project. “Before you present your strongest argument, mention a weakness or drawback,” Cialdini told the audience. “This establishes you are knowledgeable and trustworthy.”
Principle 4. Consistency
We all want to keep our word, especially if we make a pledge in front of others to do something. Encouraging team members to give a public commitment to your policies – in writing or in a meeting – makes it more likely they will remain consistent and live up to their pledge.
Principle 5. Consensus
We often take our cues from those around us. If some team members decide not to fill in a risk assessment, for example, others might not bother either. “When people are unsure, they look outside of themselves for answers,” Cialdini said. “They look to their peers – what the people around them and like them have been doing. Instead of normalizing that [negative] behaviour, marginalize it.” It is worth communicating how many people are doing the ‘right thing’ and celebrating when processes are picked up.
Principle 6. Friendship
When a colleague is positive and fair, we’re more likely to say “yes” to their work requests. Genuine compliments and giving credit where it’s due can create goodwill, which in turn makes teams more willing to help you achieve your safety goals.
The role of health and safety people often involves communicating change – changes in processes, procedures, and ways of working.
Here are some tips to help you communicate more effectively and persuasively:
- Make it personal. Use phrases like “What we’ve found” or “In my experience”, which are softer and less likely to cause resistance than a serious of orders
- Consider offering people a better way instead of forcing it. Try replacing ‘you should’ with ‘you might consider’ or ‘you could explore’
- Think about your communication methods – could you meet people face-to-face rather than send a blanket email? Consider taking time to build relationships before you have to communicate a big change
- Build an opportunity for feedback into your project and make time to take on board opinions and thoughts.
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