The Weekly Reflektion 20/2024

Leading questions are often used to communicate incorrect information and misrepresent a situation. They are also used to suggest an answer that is desired, allowing the questioner to prevent any contradiction of an already established view, or avoid taking actions that may be required.

Is your bad news, bad news?

Thanks to Morten Andreassen in Presight Solutions AS for relating a conversation he had with Jop Groeneweg, a leading figure in incident investigation and learning. The essence of the conversation was ‘when bad news becomes bad news, then you are in trouble.’

I worked for a manager that was outgoing and liked to get out on the plant and meet the people. He was good at remembering names and where people lived. He recollected snippets from previous conversations and merged these naturally into new discussions often making people feel at ease. He was an expert at creating the conditions that people will open up and tell him what he needed to know. He was also a busy man and recognised that every conversation had the potential to create extra work on following up issues and concerns. Once he had been made aware of these, then it was difficult to avoid doing something about them. After all, hehad control of the budget and the authority to determine the priorities for the organisation so he could fix problems.

He often opened the conversation with a leading question. 

How are you doing? Everything OK here? Seems to me that everything is going well.

‘Hello, I am really impressed with what has been done for safety. Things seen pretty well under control here. Do you agree?’

Good to see you again. I really like to get out here and talk to the people on the plant. Itreally important that we create the right atmosphere for people speaking up on important issues especially safety. I spend most of my time on safety and sometimes its difficult to get time for other business issues. Still its important to get the priorities right and I really believe we have come a long way. What do you think?

Once the situation has been clarified in the way the question is asked then any answer that contradicts this situation can be more difficult to formulate and express. Many people will tend to agree and avoid bringing up issues that will just add to this poor man’s already busy day. Of course, not everyone conforms, or is intimidated by this approach but it is not really contributing to the openness that is often advocated. 

Another approach that can send a clear message to the organisation on what is expected, is when the reaction to concerns is defensive reasoning, with implied criticism of theperson for raising the issue. Sometimes there is a negative physical reaction, i.e. body language. It may be a very visual reaction, sometimes less visible, but in any case, very obviousto the people expressing their concerns. It soon becomes clear that the management doesn’t really want to hear anything negative. ‘Bad news’ has become bad news. 

All news should be considered ‘good news’. Feedback that things are going well is an opportunity for understanding why there is success and thereby enhancing the probability that the success will be repeated. ‘Bad news’ is an opportunity to understand why something is not working and fix it thereby reducing the likelihood that mistakes will be repeated. It’s your culture, you decide how it should be in your facility/operation.

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