Approaching Others: How comfortable are you in having difficult conversations?

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 032

Jun 21, 2023

Approaching Others

E032_I Chose to Look the Other Way - Image

You may never know the result of what you do,
You may have to live with the result of what you do not do.

When you think about the challenges you face when you see an at-risk behaviour [that may cause you to walk on or look the other way], then ask yourself:

  • Do I know the impact of approaching others and stopping them from doing something?ย 
  • By not approaching others and stopping them, could I live with the act of something going wrong?

Approaching Others to Start a Conversation - How Difficult is it?

[Listen at approximately 2:17]

It's not easy; it's challenging and more difficult for some than others. How difficult is it - approaching others and starting a conversation about something you may never have spoken about before? Cringe-worthy pickup pub scenes come to mind. That's probably one of the most uncomfortable things, and more for men than women because that's the expectation.

It's tough - you are trying to get into the dating scene; you've built up the courage of approaching others to have these conversations, and you receive only rejection, prompting feelings of:

  • Why did I even bother?
  • I'm not going to bother doing that or trying again; or
  • I don't deserve it anyway, so why should I have the interaction?

All these emotions come into play, impacting the next time you attempt approaching others [walking up to a potential partner in a pub or elsewhere]. So if it happens in your personal life, how much more difficult can it be in your working environment?

  • How do you go about approaching others?
  • What is your level of preparedness to have a go?

How comfortable are you [or not] in approaching others when you need to have a difficult conversation?

Poem Context

[Listen at approximately 4:04]


We have worked with this poem for years, and many people in the industry have; however, some of you may need to learn where this came from and the context around this poem. Thankfully, you can Google it and find a good video around this poem.

It stems back to a specific story of when an individual felt they should have stopped a job and didn't.ย And as a result of that, the person doing the job died.ย So in the video, you see a person working on a flange or something. It's a mechanical type of work that he's doing. You also see another person observing and hesitating.

You are not 100% sure what's going on, but you get that sense, that feeling, that something doesn't look right. The observer ponders whether he should stop the worker and have a safety conversation with him; however, the last time he tried to approach this worker about this safety concern, it didn't go well - he became very defensive and did not appreciate it.

And so, the observer chooses to look the other way and not stop the job.
The result was that the person didn't survive the event.

Do you remember when you witnessed or, worse, tried to have that conversation that went wrong?

List of Things You May Recognise Or Have Done Wrong

[Listen at approximately 6:01]

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Salute and Stay Mute โ€“ bite your tongue; donโ€™t confront people in positions of power.

Don't mess with people in power. It's like keeping your head down and not challenging those who call the shots. You might do this to avoid rocking the boat or to stay in their good books.
You may feel hesitant when you want to talk to someone with more power than you. You may have had bad experiences, even with different bosses or jobs. It could also be because of cultural norms that it's not deemed appropriate to challenge somebody who is in a position of power.

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Hints, Sarcasm, Innuendo, Looks of Disgust โ€“ often used to make a point.

Nuala: I had an example of this recently, on-site, where a group of people were working, and everyone was on their phones, and someone sat down and said [sarcastically], 'I guess I'm the only one in this room who doesn't have a phone with them today'.

It didn't make a positive point or go down well with the group.

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Play the Martyr โ€“ Under the pretence that weโ€™re trying to help.

Approaching others under the pretence that you're trying to help. Interrupting them because this is the way you do it or coming across as I'm here to help you, so just let me.

    • 'Oh, you look like you might be struggling there. But let me help you.' or,
    • 'You know, it's gone wrong for me before, so stop what you're doing because I'll do it for you or do it my way.'

It's not a helpful approach, and the probable reaction will be to please go away.

[Listen at approximately 7:56]

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Blame All โ€“ A real scattergun approach hoping the message will hit the right target. (I said it in front of them, so they should get the message.)

The "blame everyone" or "scattergun" approach is when someone avoids directly addressing a specific person and instead throws out a message in front of a whole group, hoping that the intended recipient will catch on. It's like trying to avoid a one-on-one confrontation.

For example, imagine someone saying, "Hey, I'm pretty sure gloves are mandatory in this area," when ten people are present, and only one person isn't wearing gloves. It feels like a shotgun blast of blame or finger-pointing, creating an awkward situation.

Instead of taking the direct approach and asking that person directly, "Hey, where are your gloves?" it becomes a roundabout way of addressing the issue.

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Revert to Violence โ€“ Ranging from subtle manipulation to verbal attacks.

Hopefully, it doesn't come to that. But you know, when we talk about "reverting to violence," it can encompass various behaviours, ranging from subtle manipulation to verbal attacks.

    • Subtle manipulation might involve someone trying to indirectly influence you by saying things like, "Can't you see that over there? It would have been so much better for you."
    • On the other end of the spectrum, verbal attacks can involve swear words, rudeness, or intense criticism. Sometimes, people's body language becomes increasingly aggressive, signalling an escalation in the situation.

We may not always understand why people react that way or what they're going through at that moment. Nevertheless, resorting to violence is undoubtedly one of the worst approaches in such circumstances.

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Act Like We Know Everything โ€“ Hoping people will believe our arguments.

Acting as if we know everything, hoping people will unquestioningly believe our arguments, is like declaring, "We don't need Google here because we have our sensor or gear cams."

The person asserting their knowledge believes their way is the only way to get things done, so we're all expected to stop what we're doing and undo our previous work. It reminds us of the notion of being addicted to being right. When we act like we know everything, it's often a faรงade to some extent, not truly representing our actual knowledge.

However, some individuals are genuinely hooked on being right, always wanting to argue with others until they conform to their way of doing things.

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Power Player - Tit for Tat

I donโ€™t care about what you have to say because you know Iโ€™m going to get you back, and it will be twice as bad.

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Borrow Power โ€“ Manipulate by association (name-dropping), hoping this will motivate you to move your thinking.

"Borrowing power" in conversations involves using someone else's authority to enforce a point. It can backfire and harm relationships. People manipulate by dropping names, and claiming higher authority's directives, even if they're not present.

This tactic can be deceptive as the person in power may be unaware that their name is being used.

It relates to power plays and aims to persuade others to adopt a specific viewpoint. It undermines genuine conversation and focuses on getting others to conform. Ultimately, it boils down to wanting things done their way or disengaging from the discussion.

[Listen at approximately 13:25]

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Discredit Others โ€“ A political play to build personal support and dent credibility in others.

Discrediting others and stealing their thunder is a political tactic used to gain personal support while diminishing the other person's credibility. It involves making oneself look good in front of others at the expense of making the other person feel bad. What also comes into here is Individuals that don't feel heard.

In team meetings or similar scenarios, someone may try to assert themselves or offer their input; however, they are discredited or spoken over by others, creating discomfort and building barriers in future interactions. These dynamics set the stage even before meaningful communication begins.

[Listen at approximately 14:57]

๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿผ Freeze Your Lover โ€“ Stop talking to them! Give loved ones (or anyone) the cold shoulder to get them to treat us better.

I'm just going to stop talking to you. I'm just going to give you the cold shoulder, ignore you, and hope that that will make you treat me better.

Nuala: I mention my grandmother because she used to do that to my mom. From when my mom was little, and even as an adult after my granddad passed away, she said, 'You know, I still don't know what it was that I would do that was so bad that she would just stop speaking to me for days, just days.'

And it's such an unhealthy way of dealing with conflict or a situation [or not]. The cold shoulder approach is very manipulative. Can you imagine back in the workplace culture [and we see it], where people didn't like something someone said to them, so they ignored them, or they sat at another table? We've seen it in schoolyards through to the galley on a vessel.

He said this, so I'm not going to do that. Maybe it's because we don't know a different way.

Prepare for the Conversation before Approaching Others

[Listen at approximately 14:57]

We might want to have a go at having a conversation, but we don't know how to approach it. So one of these just awkward examples comes out. And at the end, you think, 'Oh, I just opened my mouth to change feet.' I wanted this conversation to go differently. It has just ended horribly.

It raises two important questions:

  • How do we recover after a conversation that went poorly?
  • And how can we better prepare ourselves before entering into a discussion to prevent those uncomfortable moments?

This also applies to addressing safety concerns or inappropriate behaviour, where we must engage in one-on-one conversations or interventions. It involves learning and developing various skills, which we have touched upon recently in our Podcast Episodes 28, 29 and 30, including active listening and giving and receiving feedback.

Personality Types And How They Affect Comfort

[Listen at approximately 17:15]

Our personalities come into this, and our own individual makeup will make a big difference as to how comfortable we are in approaching other people.

  • So if you think about someone who is very task-oriented and wants results quickly, they probably will be fine walking up to somebody because it's about the result. They're not too worried about that person's feelings or anything like that.
  • On the opposite end of that, you'll have somebody who thinks, oh, I don't want to upset that person, So I'm not sure that I want to intervene, they might get upset, and I don't want to upset them. So I'll just let it go.
  • Another one is, 'I don't do that for a living - That's different from the sort of job that I do. Therefore, although I feel uncomfortable here, I don't have enough knowledge to intervene successfully.'
  • And the type of person most comfortable is that person who is happy to talk to anybody, who is delighted to go off and intervene and have a conversation with somebody. They wouldn't even see it as an intervention, only as a need to have a conversation with you. 'I've just observed this; let's chat about it.'

When we talk about different personality types, all of this comes into play.

However, when we're on the worksite, we each have to find our layer of comfort and find the right approach and method for ourselves on how to do that. For the most part, we get training around this, particularly in the oil and gas sector and many other high-risk industries. But that doesn't make it easy.

We have run many workshops over the years to help people overcome this barrier.


I've often turned around and said to participants, 'So you know, sometimes you might have interrupted somebody, and they got defensive, or you might have had a bad past experience. But sometimes, that person is you.'

Being Your Authentic Self

[Listen at approximately 19:18]

Imagine how you would feel if someone didn't step in to prevent you from getting hurt. Consider the impact it would have on your family if you couldn't go home to them because no one stopped a potential danger.

This realisation prompts a change in mindset.

You start to appreciate when others point out inappropriate behaviour or situations, even beyond immediate risk. It's not just about preventing accidents; it could involve addressing career-limiting moves or recognising when something is entirely unsuitable for the circumstances. In those moments, speaking up and intervening is crucial, urging others to reconsider their actions.

Authenticity plays a key role.

Stay true to yourself and approach conversations by acknowledging what's happening and discussing it openly. Of course, we all make mistakes. Sometimes conversations end awkwardly, but it's essential to reflect, apologise when needed, and suggest a fresh start. You might encounter defensive reactions or dismissive responses, but it's worth persisting because the next time someone intervenes, they might save your life.

Some standard approaches and ideas can be implemented and practised when approaching others.

Approaching Others for Sustainable Change - Summary

[Listen at approximately 21:23]

Plan your intervention

Effective communication is at the core of intervention. When it comes to immediate dangers, most people have no issue stepping in and taking action. However, our focus here lies in the more subtle situations where we choose to look the other way. In these cases, planning the intervention becomes necessary.

Approach observed personnel

Take a moment to reflect on what you observed, detached from personal judgments. Consider how it made you feel, but primarily focus on the objective observation. Plan your approach with an open mind, drawing from our earlier discussions on personality diversity. Identify aspects to pause on to avoid miscommunication and areas to play on to boost confidence and find the right words.

Ask open questions that will help you to understand or identify why the person is doing what he is doing.

When approaching the person, ask open-ended questions rather than leading ones. For instance, if you see someone standing on a chair near a ladder, you might inquire, "Did you see the ladder over there?" or "Is there a particular reason why you're standing on that chair?" Tailor your approach to your style and preferences.

Most important โ€“ LISTEN!

Most importantly, listen attentively to their response, both the spoken and unspoken cues. Encourage further dialogue with prompts like "And what else?" or "Say more about that."

Communicate what you may have learned AND give feedback on safe behaviours first.

Share what you have learned and provide feedback, not solely focusing on the negatives but also highlighting positive behaviours.

Then engage the person in a conversation regarding the consequences or potential consequences of their actions โ€“ do this by asking more open questions.

This fosters a learning culture and helps develop a deeper understanding of consequences. Emphasize the potential positive outcomes that arise from their actions.

Remember, approaching others may feel challenging, but it is a crucial skill that benefits both others and your personal growth, allowing you to be your best self.


A special thank you to the wonderful ๐ŸŒŸย Ted & Booย ๐ŸŒŸ who helped us produce our Podcast. Without their help, we may not still be here, so we truly appreciate all the help they give us.

Never underestimate the power of your support team - Underwire Bra comes to mind ๐Ÿ˜‰

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety.ย 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversationsโ€”sharing our experiences and learnings.ย 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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