Recent research shows that we are having more ‘meetings’ than ever . Then when the meeting is over, we either wonder what the meeting was about and what the outcome was.
I have worked in places where holding ‘meetings’ was an addiction. What is worse, these meetings were never run well and were not about building relationship or trust. Indeed, most of the time, meetings increased because there was little trust. This also increased the need for policing the documentation of meetings.
Some of the classic ‘safety meetings’ such as: toolbox talks, pre-starts, take 5s and risk assessment meetings in some organisations, are utterly meaningless. Most often the conduct of the ‘meeting’ is appalling: talking at people, very little listening, droning on about all the same things, projections of incompetence, addiction to power, blaming, telling – safety rinse and repeat. Much of this is assisted by a safety curriculum that has little connection to the fundamentals of communication and supervision.
The excesses of safety training in the policing of regulation fosters a culture that doesn’t know how to ‘meet’. Hence why so many in safety are disillusioned with the work they are expected to do (https://safetyrisk.net/ohs-voices-from-the-resistance-rosa-carrillo/ ).
Even so, even when the industry gets concerned about the meaninglessness of ‘meetings’ it falls back on the tired old idea that it’s a problem of ‘technique’. This is not the case. Effective communication is not about technique but about disposition and orientation to others.
I was listening on the radio yesterday to a young person raving on about their ‘passion’ and ‘energy’ for a certain training program. The word ‘passion’ was repeated over and over as it was a justification for ignorance and lack of skills. I hear this often in safety. A hundred buckets of safety ‘passion’ is not worth a thimble-full of person-centric skills in risk.
Unfortunately, the presenter on the radio endorsed the nonsense language of ‘soft skills’ and, this kind of language in communication helps no-one (https://safetyrisk.net/no-soft-skills-in-safety/ ). Indeed, there are no ‘soft skills’ but rather ‘people skills’. Similarly, the language of ‘hard skills’ helps no-one. This is the kind of language that ensures that ‘meetings’ don’t work and that people can be brutalised. Such language is about as useless as the language of ‘tough love’, which is little more than an excuse to brutalise someone.
None of this language is helpful or connected to the fundamentals of connecting with others, what Buber called ‘meeting’ (https://www.maximusveritas.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/iandthou.pdf).
The nuances between holding ‘meetings’ and ‘meeting’ could not be more stark.
When one has an orientation and disposition to ‘meet’ others then, questioning and listening improves. Relationships and trust are enhanced and power is handed over to ‘the other’.
Some think that the problem with ‘meetings’ is that they are too long and the solution is to shorten them. The same delusion exists in safety that believes that cutting down paperwork naturally leads to safety improvement. Neither are the case.
Without a change in disposition or orientation to others, the length of a meeting won’t matter much. Indeed, if trust is the problem, strategies of control just move elsewhere.
What doesn’t help improve ‘meeting’ in safety is a focus on ‘checklist’ thinking (https://safetyrisk.net/checklist-seduction-and-the-delusion-of-data/). This is the kind of thinking that safety training fosters, that imagines the purpose of a safety advisor is to cover as much content as possible. This is most obvious in the typical safety induction. The focus remains on objects not subjects, hazards not risk. Buber called this focus i-it NOT i-thou.
One thing is for sure, if your ideology is zero there will be no meeting or listening (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/zero-the-great-safety-delusion/). Wherever there is intolerance there is: no meeting, no mutuality, no listening, no forgiveness, only blame and shame (https://safetyrisk.net/guilt-and-shame-the-by-products-of-safety-zero/).
The purpose of using a checklist should be to provide an agenda for discussion and listening. The checklist (https://safetyrisk.net/checklisting/) ought NOT to be the outcome of the meeting, where no-one meets. The purpose of a risk assessment ought NOT to be the generation of a risk assessment record but rather listening to what people are thinking about the risk at hand.
Again, the nuances in language are critical. If you hear someone speaking about ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills just re-frame this to ‘people’ and ‘non-people’ skills (https://safetyrisk.net/people-skills-are-not-soft-skills/ ). This alone will change the process of what people think that are doing in a ‘meeting’. I also hear many in Safety use the word ‘conversation’ that is NOT about conversation, it’s about ‘telling’.
Unless engagement is about mutuality, relationship and listening, there is little likelihood that any safety meeting will be about meeting.
If you want to learn about communication and ‘meeting’, you can study here: https://cllr.com.au/product/communicating-unconscious-risk-unit-11/ or:
Learn about Martin Buber here: https://cllr.com.au/product/buber-i-thou-and-risk-module-27/
If you want to learn about how SPoR fosters methods that facilitate meeting, you can study here: https://cllr.com.au/product/icue-engagement-module-28/
All of these programs are about the fundamentals of communication with real meeting as the goal, not a number.