Meeting in Safety With NO ‘Meeting’
In the work of Martin Buber we understand the difference between meeting and Meeting, between presence and Presence. What Buber refers to here is the relational connection to persons in an activity. Unfortunately, in many of our meetings there is no Meeting, no coming together, connection or practice of Presence. (The use of capitalization intends to focus on the difference).
We see this all the time in safety when groups ‘meet’ but there is no engagement or listening, just telling. The focus in many of these ‘meetings’ is the outcome – paperwork, in the naïve belief that paper documentation is the purpose of ‘meeting’. In such meetings there is sometimes dialogue but no Meeting. When Buber discusses Meeting he uses a hyphen to denote the connection between i-thou. The opposite of Meeting is i-it, the coming together of meeting that views others as objects. This is how Process safety and Human factors understands people, as ‘factors’ in a system. The focus is on the system not persons.
Meeting is characterized by: mutuality, listening, suspending agenda, relationship and ‘Presentness’. I-it is about utility and Technique, efficiency and outcome and, monologue. In i-it the word ‘communication’ is interpreted as ‘telling’.
The only way to really Meet another is to suspend your own agenda and move into the hyphen, the place where they too have suspended their agenda. This is why the Handbook on Social Psychology of Risk is subtitled ‘i-thou’.
Without Meeting, an induction is simply the indoctrination of data. Similarly, risk assessments, toolbox talks and pre-starts without Meeting become noise. The purpose of such meetings is often to sign the paperwork and ‘get the job done’. The production of the paperwork appears as if there has been a meeting, but there has been NO Meeting.
Then when something goes wrong the court discovers there was no listening, no reflection, no dialogue or helping, just a meeting as a masquerade for telling.
The key to Meeting others is: making time, inclusion, suspending agenda, resonance, an ethic of risk, Socialitie (social orientation) and ‘walking in the others shoes’.
The pressure to get the job done usually squeezes such qualities out so that there is no time for connection. Telling is quick, listening takes time. Open questions require an openness to listening, a disposition FOR Meeting. Good questioning skills are not about Technique (efficiency) but rather are dispositional. Traditional safety neither encourages nor upskills people in safety for Meeting. Indeed, such Meeting is often considered ‘a waste of time’.
When safety is defined by the presence of injury data, the data demonstrates there has been no Meeting.