Seven Simple Strategies that Create Connections with Clients
By Ben Monts
It goes without saying that a safety professional needs to have a solid understanding of safety practices and procedures. But there’s another set of skills that can make safety professionals – and anyone who is expected to oversee safety on projects – even more effective. It’s a solid understanding of people, how they think, and what motivates them.
I know that there are those who would dismiss a statement like that as “feel-good nonsense” or “warm fuzzies”. But my experience on jobsites – and that of the successful safety professionals I’ve observed – convinces me that understanding people is every bit as important as understanding safety. Most of the strategies I’ve used on jobsites are very simple. I’ve summarized the most successful ones here.
Be adaptable. Most jobsites involve many different positions and types of people, from supervisors to craftspeople, each with their own beliefs and motivations. Too many people make the mistake of dealing with all of those different people in the same way. Adapting your approaches to each individual’s personality and motivations is far more effective than trying a one-attitude-fits-all approach.
Look the part. We all make immediate judgments based on appearances. That’s just as true on the jobsite as it is elsewhere in life. Having the right appearance improves your chances of starting a relationship on the right foot. When interacting with management, wearing a nice suit may be appropriate, but out on an active construction site, that suit sends an entirely different message. You don’t want to appear sloppy, but you also don’t want to look like you’ve never touched dirt.
Keep it honest. As a child, you learned that honesty was the best policy. That’s absolutely true for safety professionals, and part of being honest is admitting that you don’t always have the answer. Nobody will fault you for responding “I don’t know” if you subsequently check your resources and come back with an answer. Plus, you never want to have someone get hurt because you gave the wrong answer. Admitting you don’t have all of the answers doesn’t make you appear to be stupid, but trying to fake an answer to a question invariably will.
Get to know people. It’s easy to forget that people aren’t their jobs. We may say that painters are like this, or ironworkers always do that, but every individual is different. Engaging in simple, friendly conversations with people often provides a great deal of insight into what’s important to them. Remembering those things and bringing them up later goes a long way in building good working relationships. Asking an avid fisherman about the biggest fish he ever landed, or a proud dad of a high school wrestler how his son did last weekend will break down barriers and create connections faster than anything else. What we dismiss as “small” talk is anything but insignificant.
Be respectful and supportive. Every safety professional has encountered someone who treats them like the traffic cop who’s hiding behind a bridge. Many workers are inherently suspicious of anyone who pays close attention to what they do. You can tell them that you’re there to help them, but simply saying something like that won’t convince them. You have to back it up by showing respect for their knowledge and what they do. Craftspeople in particular have extensive training. Electricians, pipe fitters, and the others all know how to do their jobs, and how to do them safely. A safety professional’s job is to ensure that they make the right choices. Sometimes, all it takes is an offer to help them do something, or handing them a piece of safety equipment they’ll need to complete the job.
Handle disputes calmly. Workers don’t always enjoy being corrected, and some even react with anger (particularly if they’ve been having a bad day). When receiving an angry reaction, the key is to keep the situation from escalating. It’s okay to say you’ll talk about it later and give everyone involved a chance to cool down. Sometimes waiting until people have a chance to sleep on it makes all the difference. You can come up the next day and say, “Look, I know you weren’t happy with what I said, but I was concerned that you were going to get hurt.” Trying to reason with someone who’s angry usually leads to more anger and frustration. (But if the situation is truly dangerous, remember that you have a responsibility to take immediate action, even if it angers those involved.)
Reward, too. Some safety professionals think their role is to catch people doing the wrong things. But you can accomplish the same result more effectively by focusing on correct behavior. Often, workers are “rewarded” for making unsafe decisions because it allows them to complete their work more quickly or with less cost. As long as they or others don’t get hurt, they may not see the inherent danger. Finding ways to reward them for doing things the right way can help them develop greater satisfaction and a sense that they are professionals. Even something as simple as providing positive feedback immediately – saying “thanks for keeping yourself safe and making sure that everyone around you is safe” – shows them that you recognized their efforts, and reinforces the right behavior.