5 Considerations to Encourage Speaking Up for Safety and Reducing Conversational Barriers

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May 22, 2024

Speaking up for Safety

The ability to speak up keeps us safe from potential harm (physical and emotional), enables us to improve our working methods and systems, encourages innovation, supports us, and keeps our teams on track.

What areas in the organisation should we consider to encourage speaking up for safety and reduce conversational barriers? Here are five considerations that influence people to speak up or shut up.

Cultural Norms

Consider your workplace culture and what is being encouraged and promoted, consciously and unconsciously.

Unwritten Rules

In Episode 13 of The Safety Collaborators Podcast, we explore what is the connection between your safety culture and unwritten rules.

Unwritten rules are the single biggest influence on how we behave and what we say at home, school, work, and every social setting. Various factors, including emotions and social pressures, can influence risk-taking behaviour.

The desire to fit in could be one of these factors, leading individuals to engage in risk-taking behaviour to avoid feeling ostracised.

Are you aware of the unwritten rules that influence your safety culture?
Listen to episode 13 here for more insight

Normalisation of Deviance

Over time, team members may become desensitised to safety risks and accept unsafe practices as normal if they are not promptly addressed, leading to a gradual erosion of safety standards.

New team members are often more likely to notice the nuances of unwritten rules and how long-standing team members may have become desensitised to safety risks. If you have someone new to the organisation, seek their perspectives on what may be different, concerning, or standing out to them as being a bit strange or unsafe.

Prioritisation of Production over Safety

Organisational cultures that emphasise productivity and efficiency over safety can convey that taking shortcuts is acceptable, even if it compromises safety.

Time pressures, actual or perceived, also influence team members’ ability to take shortcuts.

Hierarchy and Power Dynamics

Organisational structures with strong hierarchies can create barriers to communication, where lower-ranking team members may feel intimidated or hesitant to voice concerns to those in positions of power.

Understanding how you build a culture of care in an intercultural world when each person operates from their own beliefs, norms, and expectations is invaluable in understanding how to help people in speaking up for safety.

Personality significantly impacts our day-to-day thinking, speaking, and acting, but there is something that is just as powerful: our Cultural Worldview.

Our cultural drivers strongly influence how we think, speak and act, and they can be found at the root of why we do what we do.

We explore the Three Colours of Worldview framework in Episode 59 of The Safety Collaborators Podcast, where we dive into Bridging Cultures for Safety (Intercultural Intelligence). The Three Colours of Worldview are considered the core drivers of culture, and they are:

  1. Honour <> Shame
  2. Innocence <> Guilt
  3. Power <> Fear

We are a mix of all of these.

Learn more as Karin and Nuala explore this further: Bridging Cultures for Safety (Intercultural Intelligence): The Three Colours of Worldview

Fear of Retaliation

When speaking up is not encouraged, it can discourage team members from raising safety issues due to fear of negative consequences or retaliation. Team members may fear being punished or ridiculed for making mistakes or speaking up.


How do you encourage speaking up and reduce the fear? Start with understanding and building trust.

  • What does trust mean to you?
  • What does trust mean to your team?
  • What does trust mean to your company?
  • Why is it important to develop inside of a company? How important is it to you?

Trust changes reality, and Episode 41 of our podcast provides great guidance. We dig deeply into the Foundation of Trust: The C-IQ Formula Every Effective Leader Needs.

This podcast is a great starting point in understanding what needs to shift or be understood to help people be more comfortable speaking up.

Building a Psychological Safe Team

When individuals do not feel psychologically safe to express opinions without fear of repercussions, they are less likely to report potential safety problems.

Several warning signs indicate that an organisation or team may not be psychologically safe, and fear of retaliation is one of them.

Encouraging open communication, providing opportunities to learn from mistakes, valuing diverse perspectives, and promoting collaboration and trust to foster Psychological Safety within their teams and organisations go a long way to building psychologically safe teams.

Psychological Safety Programmes

Perceived Futility

Team members may believe that speaking up will not lead to any meaningful change or improvement in safety practices, leading to reluctance to voice their concerns.

We have experienced frustration with systems where safety observations or team member feedback is encouraged. Still, the feedback loop is open, and people stop reporting concerns because they perceive their efforts as futile...

Concerns go into the system; sometimes, they see an action, but often, they don't get direct feedback to encourage further participation and interaction. Even if the response is 'No, this cannot be changed now,' it is still worth giving feedback.

Feedback is a two-way street - It's the art of giving it, and it's the art of receiving.

How do your systems close the feedback loop so that your teams believe that their speaking up will lead to meaningful change or improvement in safety practices?

Continuous Learning

In many organisations, minor incidents crop up frequently, each demanding a chunk of resources to investigate and manage. Despite all the effort, these incidents often yield little valuable insight.

This inefficiency undermines the goal of reducing risk, as resources that could be directly enhancing safety are instead diverted. The main challenges lie in deciding which incidents warrant investigation and mastering the best investigation methods.

However, when organisations focus on continuous learning and strategically choose areas to investigate, it improves safety outcomes and encourages team members to speak up about safety concerns.

This culture of openness and learning leads to more proactive safety measures and a more robust overall safety culture.

In Summary

Encouraging a culture where speaking up for safety is the norm, not the exception, is critical for any organisation aiming to keep its people safe and maintain high standards.

By addressing key areas such as cultural norms, hierarchy and power dynamics, fear of retaliation, perceived futility, and continuous learning, organisations can break down barriers to open communication.

By focusing on these considerations, organisations can create a robust safety culture where every team member feels empowered to speak up and reduce conversational barriers.

This will ultimately lead to safer and more effective working environments.

Let's have a conversation

Ready to transform your safety culture?
Reach out to us today to empower your team with the skills to speak up and create a safer workplace!

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