Three types of stories encourage workers to be safe

Workplace storytelling is a powerful and effective tool for improving safety culture, because it’s more likely than “information and instruction” to provoke emotion and encourage workers to act, says communication expert Jonathan Champ.

Founder of communication consultancy Meaning Business, Champ – who is presenting a webinar for OHS Alert subscribers next week – says stories are “great for explaining the ‘why’ of a situation” and painting a picture of incidents.

They also create an emotional connection between workers and an issue.

“Sharing lots of stories of ‘what happened when we did this’, or ‘this is the problem we were having and then this is how we solved it’, is a really strong way of reflecting that culture is changing or that culture is developing,” Champ says.

Three types of stories that help improve workplace safety are warnings, quests and tragedies, he says.

He recommends storytellers – that is, anyone responsible for sharing safety messages – consider children’s fairy tales, which are “often very cautionary in nature”, when sharing stories.

“There’s an inherent human love of a bit of danger or a bit of risk, and a desire to alert people and say ‘look out over there, behind you’,” he says.

“The cautionary tale… is a really powerful tool.

“People engage with the idea that there was a problem or something went wrong, or there was harm or some form of risk.

“Finding ways to be able to illustrate ‘this is what happened, this is what the risk was, and this is what we did as a result’, is a very natural frame for being able to bring that [story] to life.”

People also enjoy listening to “quests” (how someone got from point A to point B), Champ says.

These kinds of stories should be shared when, for example, a safety campaign is held in the workplace. They show what the safety culture is like at the beginning of the campaign and the process of improving that culture.

Stories of workplace safety tragedies, meanwhile, provoke emotion in workers, which has been shown to drive behaviour, Champ says.

Storytellers need to ensure that no matter what type of story is told, it is credible, and ideally based on truth, he says.

Information versus storytelling

The “big difference” between storytelling and information sharing is that workers are involved in the storytelling process; providing information is “instructional and dry”, Champ says.

Information that is sent out as an instruction, process or guideline, and says “this is what needs to happen”, doesn’t reflect how people interact in their day-to-day environment, he says.

Stories help workers see themselves in a situation.

“Stories are how we make sense of the world… We’re kind of hardwired to take things in a story format,” Champ says.

In OHS Alert’s free subscriber webinar on “effective safety communication” next Wednesday, Champ will explain how to:

  • create an appetite for essential safety information;
  • amplify the safety message across all channels;
  • structure communication campaigns for the long haul; and build a committed safety culture.

The webinar will include a 20-minute Q&A session – click here for more information or to register.

This blog first appeared on OHS Alert.

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