Having Courageous Conversations: Are You Brave Enough To Go Back?

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 037

Jul 26, 2023

Courageous Conversations

Are we glancing and making a safety judgment, or do we observe in context?
Are we brave enough to go back and have a different conversation when we get it wrong?

[Listen at approximately 00:12]

Today's episode was inspired by a LinkedIn post that Nuala did a little while ago, which included the following poll on observations:

Nuala Gage LinkedIn Post - Poll on Observations

We're delighted that the biggest percentage of responses was

~ acknowledge and discuss ~

The other interesting one worthy of thought is ~ make a joke about it ~ which came through at 0%. Do we realise when we do or don't make a joke of things?
Or is it an accidental thing that we don't even realise that we're doing it sometimes?

These are our thoughts and what inspired this episode.

What Inspired the LinkedIn Post & Poll

[Listen at approximately 01:46]

So what situation inspired Nuala to do this very cool LinkedIn post and poll?


I was working with someone doing informal coaching, and I had been observing him for about 45 minutes to an hour at his job, where he was working with potentially dangerous machinery.

Each time he reset or calibrated this equipment, he would lift his safety glasses above his head and do the calibration. Before the machine started, the safety glasses were pulled back down - it was muscle memory. I watched it for quite a long time.

A supervisor from another team walked through the area and looked at me, looking at this person without their safety glasses on, with a look of horror [because there the safety coach was standing next to this person who's not got their PPE on] and mouthing and pointing going, he's not wearing his safety glasses.

I responded with no, he's not. But I've been watching him in context for 45 minutes to an hour.

And at any point, had that machine started without those safety glasses coming down, it would have been a very different conversation.

It reminded me how often we judge someone based on a quick glance of five seconds, seeing them not doing something they're supposed to because we know that accidents happen in a second, and you can never take them back.

So do we understand the whole picture before passing judgement?

So that was the one situation.
And then I caught myself doing that same thing a little while later...

[Listen at approximately 03:34]

I saw a young person, new to the operation, working in a very noisy area. I asked him where his earplugs were, and he said he had none. So I went and got some, came back and offered them to him.

He looked me dead in the eye and said no.
I let him know he needs to put his earplugs in.
Again, he said no. 

I couldn't believe his reaction and said I would deal with this with his supervisor because that is not an okay reaction in any environment when someone is there to give you feedback about something you're doing that could cause you harm. 

I spoke to his supervisor, who spoke to him and told him he was in deep trouble because of his reaction and that it had become a discussion at the head of department meeting around observations and how to work and deal with things. 

As things unfolded, we realised that it was not entirely this young person's fault - the system had failed him too.

Did he have the best attitude towards safety? No.

But it was his first trip offshore, and his induction to the offshore world was approximately two hours of 'This is where you're going and this is what you're doing' without that fundamental deep understanding of why we care so much and want you to leave in the same way that you came on board. 

I probably was a bit snarky [I'm not going to lie], which wasn't a good reaction.
So it was a mirror in my face, thinking:

    • What could I have done differently at that moment to understand the context from which this person was looking at their worldview? 
    • What lenses were they wearing? 

I did go back and apologise, and I asked, "How can we help you"? 

What can we do to ensure that your future working environment in this industry will be better and that you understand it for yourself and in the context of the organisation?

It was such a different conversation.

So those were the two situations that happened so close to each other; 

    • in one, I asked how you could judge so quickly. 
    • And in the next, why did I judge so quickly?

Saying "No" is Quite a Strong Reaction

[Listen at approximately 06:20]

It's not something you hear people say flat out, just "No," without hesitation.
Humans generally find it hard to say No - it's like this two-letter word that gives us trouble.

We found it curious that this young man was brave enough to say it, although we doubt he'll be doing it again, especially when it comes to safety, you can't mess around with that.

But we do understand, as there are plenty of safety things that we don't particularly enjoy, such as:

  • Safety glasses steaming up?
  • Gloves not fitting perfectly?
  • Anti-vibration gloves making your hands cramp?

They're there for a reason, and we need to understand that.

So, after another little one-on-one chat with him [after talking to his supervisor], he said he didn't like earplugs and that his hands were dirty. He could've taken his hands out of his gloves, and there was some learning to be had there.

Ultimately he felt he could hear perfectly fine and that if he started to lose his hearing as he became older, he could get a hearing aid.

Not to take away from the point of this episode, but we find 'hearing' one of the most challenging things to deal with [unless you are already experiencing going deaf] - it's a distant near miss, for sure.

We Are All Human and Far From Perfect

[Listen at approximately 08:31]

We always talk about how context is everything.

And when you think about the foundation of it all, like safety or any culture, you have to consider the context. What drives people to act the way they do or not? We're all human, and let's face it, we're far from perfect. We make mistakes.

As an example, there was an experience with someone in a very high-up position who, in the moment, thought it was a fabulous idea to stand on a wheelie chair to access something; he did ask somebody to hold the chair.

But there were a lot of younger, not so experienced people observing this, and the lesson for them was: Well if he can take shortcuts, why can't I? And that's a problem.

In all these situations, courage and bravery become crucial.

Going back and having those conversations is the right thing, and what needs to be included is following up and not leaving things hanging after the first chat.

The words courage and bravery stand out because, in those moments, we're starting to build some psychological safety. The person felt like he could say "no" or chose to say "no," but he was given a chance to keep the conversation going and take it to the level it needed.


I'm an experienced coach, and in my reflection afterwards, I questioned,
'Did I do the best that I could have done in that moment'?
And my honest answer was no.

Part of my reflection was going back and asking myself what space I was in, in that moment where I got frustrated and angry [and I was angry and disappointed].

I had to do a check on my energy, mood and openness on that day.

What other contextual things around me had made it not such a great day that this was the cherry on the top at the end of it?

And in that moment, I was not showing up the best; it was a mediocre version of Nuala, and that's okay because we can't be perfect every day.

An Essential Lesson

[Listen at approximately 10:46]

It doesn't matter how experienced or trained we are; someone might say,
"Well, it's easy for you; it's your job!"

But for us, like team leaders or frontline leaders, we have all these other things to juggle.

Having these courageous conversations is not always a walk in the park. They can be tough!

So, we never want anyone to think it's all rainbows and unicorns when we share our stories.

Even in our roles, we still have those days where it's a struggle.

We have to do that superhero pose and wind ourselves up to say, "Alright, let's do this!"
Or we had a major mess-up yesterday, and we got need to figure out how to make it right:

  • What can we put in place?
  • Who do we need to talk to?
  • How do we get into that headspace to give it another shot?

When you listen to us talking, we don't want you to think that we think any of this that we do is easy. And the expectation is that if you're a leader or a team leader, you should be able to do some of this.

Yes, there's an expectation there.
But it takes practice, learning, and a desire to make a difference.

Awkward Conversations

[Listen at approximately 12:43]

In the poll results,

"Make a joke about it" got 0%,
"Apologise and move on" received 11%, and
"Acknowledge and discuss" was the clear winner with an impressive 86%.

That's fantastic news for those who bravely participated and shared your thoughts.

Thank you for being open and honest in your responses.

It's not always easy, and some may hesitate because they fear judgment or misunderstandings from others. Sometimes, we tend to avoid those tough conversations or conflicts, pretending they never happened.

Imagine it's like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, right? We pretend those awkward or poorly managed conversations are just fleeting moments and brush them aside. But you know what? That approach can lead to trust issues and leave unresolved matters simmering beneath the surface.

So why do we do this?

Well, sometimes, our busy schedules and assumptions about the severity of conflicts come into play.

We might think, "Ah, it'll be okay; I don't have to say anything," and pretend the issue doesn't exist. Or we've had interactions in the past that were defensive and uncomfortable, and we'd rather not go through that again. Sound familiar?

It has happened to us [Karin & Nuala] where we've misinterpreted each other in something, and it's been an awkward conversation. And the next day, we had to come back and ask, 'what happened yesterday'?

We could either turn it into a lighthearted memory we laugh about or make a sarcastic and unhealthy joke.

Humour in the Working Environment

[Listen at approximately 14:52]

So there's nothing wrong with humour.

Banter in the working environment is fine, but not where it breaks psychological safety, inclusion, and trust.

When it is part of laughing at yourself or laughing together at a situation you erroneously created, it can build psychological safety and trust because you are showing your vulnerability.

It also comes down to how well you already know each other.

When you're working in multicultural environments, you've got to be careful of this one; it can bite you because it can be taken the wrong way and out of context. You can get away with it if it's between two people who come from a similar culture or environment.

But if you're in a newer environment, and you joke about something or diminish something that somebody is trying to do, it becomes very difficult to come back from.

And there's no trust happening now, even with apologising and moving on.

Let's be honest; it is hard to apologise. It's not our human first position.

We like to be right. So it is a big and brave thing when someone can say, 'You know what, I'm sorry for how I handled yesterday. It could have been better. I won't do that again', and move on.

However, it can still leave a trail of resentment, angst, confusion, and misinterpretation because of the why and how it happened. So on the one side, it's great to apologise and then walk away; however, instead, acknowledge and discuss by saying,

'The conversation we had yesterday, I didn't show up as my best. This is how it could have been different. Can we rework the conversation and then come up with a better outcome around it?'

Be Kind. Always.

[Listen at approximately 17:23]

There's no guarantee that you won't behave like that again because you apologise for something. What also needs to be considered is that everyone is different, and what could be seemingly insignificant to you could be very hurtful and painful to someone else.

And interestingly, people often think that if you're an extrovert, you can cope, but if you're an introvert, you can't; that is so far from reality. Just because somebody might be coming across as bold and brash or out-there doesn't mean they don't feel; they do.

We're reminded of the quote in Episode 31 on feedback and feedforward. The Robin Williams quote,

'Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, be kind. Always.'

This one is about reflecting on yourself.
You don't have to write a journal about those moments.

We inherently know when we've not approached or said something right; very few people don't realise when they haven't been their best.

Final Thoughts

[Listen at approximately 18:51]

So the takeaway is to be kind definitely, not just to the other person, but also to yourself.

The more bravery you can take on in terms of acknowledging and then discussing, the more you open the doors for a psychologically safe environment and a culture of care.

And vulnerability is being rewarded because not only are you having the conversation, but you're also showing that you might have been bold and full of bravado in the moment, but they can still come back and be vulnerable with you.

Vulnerability is probably one of the greatest "leadership skills" any of us can take on, and we use the word leadership as in anybody taking the lead, not just the title.

The post mentions some 'What do you do?' things when you find yourself walking away and going, 'Oh, that wasn't my best me.'

Some of the questions you can ask yourself are:

  • What am I truly observing?
  • Am I looking at the big picture?
  • Am I just glancing at a moment in time?
  • Do I understand the context?
  • Am I asking the right questions to understand the context better and not just that it's a no in the moment?
  • Where am I misinterpreting that?

Go back to your energy, your mood, and then consider the other person. What is their energy, mood, behaviour, experience and risk awareness?

We don't always get it right - but be brave enough to go back and have a different conversation when you get it wrong.

What do you do in these situations?
We would love to hear your thoughts and learn with you.

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. 

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 conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

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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