Asking Better Questions in Risk
Unfortunately, there is much confusion in safety regarding this issue. Indeed, I read a safety book the other day that was titled about questioning and learning but there was nothing in the book about effective questioning or the nature of learning. Such is the safety code (https://safetyrisk.net/deciphering-safety-code/ ) for saying nothing well. Indeed, one of the so-called ‘learning experts’ listed in the book was an engineer! Similarly, there is nothing in the AIHS BoK on the fundamentals of effective communication not the WHS curriculum!
How amazing, safety must be the only industry so poorly prepared to take on the challenges of engagement, learning and communication.
One of the challenges in knowing what to ask in risk and safety engagement starts well before one ever walks on site. Taking an agenda into a conversation or observation, conditions the nature of that conversation and observation. So, if your agenda is safety system improvement (as it was in this book) this will actually prevent the effectiveness of questioning. Similarly, for learning.
Unless open discovery, suspended agenda and open questioning are part of the way you engage others in risk, it is not likely that you will ask ‘better questions’.
One of the key skills in Active Listening (https://safetyrisk.net/the-art-of-active-listening-in-risk/ ) is Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR), which is foundational for enacting skilled helping. You won’t find anything in safety written about this vital skill. You can read more about UPR in Egan’s wonderful book on helping.
I guess then it just depends if you understand safety as a helping (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-as-a-helping-profession/ ) or a controlling industry. Without helping at the centre of an activity it is unlikely that one will be either professional or ethical in practice.
However, this safety book was not about helping, learning or listening but about targeting and improving safety management systems. However, the purpose of asking effective questions is not about getting better safety systems, safety management or to problem solve or ‘fix’ safety problems. Nor is it to improve cognition or build content knowledge. The purpose of effective questioning, Active Listening and tapping into the Active Imagination is to get to know ‘the other’ and the help the other ‘get in touch’ with themselves. This is ever so important when many at work are distressed, over worked or suffering under an organizationally induced mental health environment (eg. bullying etc).
Active Listening enables ‘the other’ to ‘discover’ their own unconscious assumptions and worldview. The helper simply becomes the ‘duola’ (mid-wife helper – https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/doula-vs-midwife ) to help the other get in touch with their own thinking through ‘surfacing’ (Gigerenzer – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.711289/full ) the unconscious. This is a useful metaphor for helping because the helper doesn’t control but rather helps the other give birth to their own understanding, reflection and learning. In a risk and safety context one can best ‘help’, by suspending agenda and acting as a facilitator not director or controller of learning.
The same happens in safety investigations, most often an attitude of open discovery is NOT the agenda in enquiry but rather the targeting of questions to an undisclosed safety agenda.
I have also read in Safety discussions about ‘structured play’ or the use of play (as ‘gamification’) in learning. But again, coming from engineers who understand play and gaming as a Technique to deliver a safety agenda. Such an agenda is not likely to produce open embodied learning but rather like most safety books on learning, has a focus on content knowledge (data) as learning. Learning is NOT about the accumulation or improvement of data or cognition. Training is not learning.
If you want to understand learning I would suggest the last place to seek advice on learning would be in engineering.
I have written extensively on the nature of learning here and for free download: https://www.humandymensions.com/product/tackling-risk/
Real learning is experienced when the purpose of the facilitation is NOT to control the other. A difficult challenge for anyone in the safety industry, that teaches the foundation of safety work as control, policing and managing others. This is why the safety curriculum contains nothing on the ethics of engagement, learning or foundations in communication. This is why the engineering and behaviourist worldview that dominates safety ensures that everything stays the same.
The place to start to improve engagement is to move away from the engineering and behaviourist worldview, if one wants to ask better questions and help learning. Both of these worldviews disable learning because they foster an agenda of control.
If you want to learn more about how to be effective in engagement, questioning, listening, learning and conversation you can study our online module in Communicating to the Unconscious (https://cllr.com.au/product/communicating-unconscious-risk-unit-11/ ).