Communicating Professionally in Risk

The foundations of communicating and messaging is: framing, priming, pitching, anchoring, reframing and suspending agenda. We learn this in many SPoR programs as a foundation for understanding communication and influencing effectiveness. We use a simple tool shown at Figure 1. Language Influencing

Figure 1. Language Influencing


This is the foundation for communication effectiveness NOT the simplistic behaviourist idea that communication is in and out, sender and receiver.

Once the foundations of communication are understood they then require extensive practice, mentoring and embodiment (made unconsciously tacit).

Unfortunately, under the banner of behaviourist dumb down safety, most messaging is ineffective and often generates the opposite of what is intended. Strategic communication requires sophistication NOT behaviourist/engineering nonsense.

This is why the framing of psychosocial challenges as ‘hazards’ is so dangerous, counter-effective and un-professional. Only engineers and behaviourists (with no knowledge of linguistics) could construct something so dumb and, it will generate the opposite of its intent. Naming anything ‘Psychosocial’ as a ‘hazard’ will: supress reporting, suppress openness, create masking of problems, punish victims and lead to more bullying and brutalism. Well done, Safety!

Of course, this comes from a source of ignorance in communication, ignorance about social influencing and a mechanistic/behaviourist approach to persons. And now that it is the linguistics of choice for the ISO Standard and Codes of Practice such ‘framing’ changes the culture of organisations to move away from empathy to now ‘fixing’ hazards.

The language of ‘fixing’ is nonsense with anything to do with Psychosocial Health.

Can you just imagine calling in to lifeline because you are bullied at work, feel suicidal and then hear the counsellor ask you about the ‘hazard’.

Why is it that we are so careful what we say around children but don’t give a toss about what is said in safety?

Only Safety could look at all the possible framing to describe a situation and the ensure it uses the wrong one.

In Professions (eg. disability profession) where they know that framing matters, get the language right. When it comes to the ethics of racism we get the language right (

The moment one sets a Psychosocial agenda as a ‘hazard’ everything that follows will be unprofessional. Then couple this with the nonsense framing of ‘zero’ and, bullying and brutalism is guaranteed.

Anything that frames my situation as a ‘hazard’ can only alienate listening and focus attention on ‘fixing’ and, if you want to be super-dumb about it, apply the hierarchy of controls.

All of this from an industry that doesn’t study ethics, has no sense of personhood, doesn’t study linguistics and thinks that safety is about the management of objects.

How communication is ‘pitched’ is critical to how intent, motivation and perception is received. Caldini articulated all of this 40 years ago! But when you only read texts from engineers and behaviourists in the safety curriculum, how would you know?

The choice of language in framing, ‘primes’ the receiver unconsciously with the intent (bias) of the prime. Just watch a few of these on how priming works:




In SPoR, this stuff is 101 (

Then there is the power of re-framing. That’s when someone uses inappropriate language and you give them a better frame to use. This is often done when language is used that disables the personhood of another eg. a person with a disability ( This is not about political correctness but about considering the personhood of the other person in engagement. We don’t think of what is convenient to say but rather ask the other how they would like to be known. This is the foundation for an ethic of respect and beneficence.

Of course, none of this is mentioned in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics, which makes it then so easy without an ethic of personhood to brutalise others in the name of safety. The same is done in the name of Zero.


Linguistics is the bedrock of culture. We see how this is done in elections. How one frames an issue and a person sways the population. Don’t call it an ‘environmental incentive’ call it a ‘carbon tax’.

The first task of any safety person now is to reject the language of ‘hazard’ when speaking about a Psychosocial risk or health situation and consider the needs of other person. The first thing we need to do, is hear the language of the other and ask them what language is best for ‘framing’ the situation. And I can guarantee, they won’t want to use the word ‘hazard’.

What a shame that Safety doesn’t know that language communicates an assumed ethic. How pathetic that the safety industry thinks that injury rates should frame the problem NOT the nature of persons. How unprofessional to describe Psychosocial situations as ‘hazards’.

Then there’s anchoring. Anchoring is about what sticks and it is often achieve through repetition, unconscious metaphor, myth, ritual and gesture. This is what Safety seeks to do by the constant use of the word professional, as if repetition of the word makes it so. No professional would ever seek to describe a Psychosocial situation as a ‘hazard’.

My situation is NOT an object to be controlled!

This is what behaviourism generates.

This is what a mono-disciplinary methodology generates.

Poor old safety, not just burdened with the language of ‘zero’ now burdened with the language of Psychosocial need as ‘hazards’. It is as if all the knowledge on ethics, personhood, communication, influencing and effectiveness was researched by the industry and then chose to ignore it.

In SPoR, once we know the Power of Framing ( we create the language of leadership.

Once we know that the simplistic assumptions of behaviourism don’t work, we can enact relationships with others that work.

Once we know about the dynamics of Social Influencing (See Figure 2. Social Influencing) we can then influence with positive, constructive and practical approaches to safety that work (

Figure 2. Social Influencing


All of this is basic beginner knowledge in SPoR and, much of it is free and downloadable for free. You can download this poster for free here: Except, much of this is not understandable without doing the workshop associated with it or, reading outside of the mono-disciplinary domain of safety (eg. Pratkanis, The Science of Social Influence).

There is no cost impediment in SPoR to help improve moral conduct and humanise risk in the workplace. Now with the current move by Safety into Psychosocial ‘hazards’, it has simply created one more barrier to prevent a safety person to become a professional.

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