Promises, promises: why authentic communication is vital

Much of the research into emotional intelligence – the capacity to understand and deal with our own and others’ emotions – suggests we gain more of it with age. If we are not naturally empathetic and able to read about the way people around us are feeling, or to predict their reactions to bad news, experience makes us better at it, which is reassuring.

One thing most of us learn with time is not to over-promise. However gratifying it is to bask in the appreciation of someone when you have just committed to deliver them the moon and stars, it’s a hollow satisfaction if you know that down the road you are going to have to disappoint them. More importantly, you are going to have to deal with the consequences when their disappointment turns to resentment and anger, as it usually does.

But many organisations routinely over-promise to their workforces. It’s a point that crops up more than once in the chapters of One Percent Safer. Kevin Myers, President of International Association of Labour Inspection, and former Deputy Chief Executive of the UK Health and Safety Executive, says in his contribution that when a regulator hears a CEO say “safety is our number one priority,” they hear the same alarm bells as when a romantic partner offers the chilling reassurance “of course I love you”.

The number one priority for any organisation is survival, says Kevin; besides, as others have pointed out, safety should not be a priority, it is a value.

Dr Frank Gerrit Poggenpohl and Christian Boehmer make a similar point in their joint contribution. Frank is Head of Global Crisis Management at chemicals multinational BASF and notes that “employees can sense whether a statement of intent is only said or if it’s actually lived”. The illustration by Christian that accompanies his points shows a manager pressing the “like” button on a Twitter post that reads “There’s nothing more important than your life and your safety” while behind him employees flee a burning building. “The sincere attention of managers is required to resonate and reinforce what’s important,” stresses Frank.

All of this just reminds us to do in business what we know from our personal lives; it’s better to over-deliver on a modest promise than over-claim and erode others’ trust in us.

One Percent Safer is packed with insights into better safety leadership and management from 142 specialists round the world. And the profits from all sales will go Plus all the profits go to support people in the safety and health profession who need help because of the Covid crisis. Get your copy here