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Are you Working against how the Brain Processes Safety Information?

brain animationOne mistake I often see safety professionals do, is that once they have created a new company safety procedure, they get all excited about it and go and tell the next colleague they see.  Usually their workmate has their mind on something else such as they're busy filling out a form or using a machine.

And the safety guy or gal expects them to be so fascinated and just stop what they’re doing and listen.  But this never works.  You’ve got to get people’s attention first.  You need to make it relevant to them.  You can’t just kind of throw up on people with your information.  And if you’re on the receiving end, sometimes it does feel like that.

When it comes to providing people with any sort of information that you want them to take notice and act upon, you have to get their 100% full attention. 

You can think of getting attention as like a spark plug igniting fuel to start an engine. Attention starts the motor of your brain.  The first thing is to ignite that spark plug and then once the engine is running you can get into more detail. 

Once the brain is aware that a poor safety behaviour is being undertaken incorrectly, it can then start to work on it to improve.

Attention has enormous catalytic properties in changing safety behaviours.  It provides a powerful energy for change.

It’s the first step that I teach in the Fast Track your Safety Communication Results program because without it, people can’t take action on your messages.

If you don’t know this, the costs are huge because you will forever make boring safety communication that people just aren’t interested in.  It will keep you stuck in writing safety messages that actually repel safety from being meaningful to people.  It’s the key to drawing the employee into finding out more.  And wanting to learn and know how to keep safe.

Creating boring safety information actually works against how the brain processes information.

This is because our brain relies on past patterns to know what to do.  Our brains actually use pre-recorded patterns to make sense of our experience to decide whether something is boring or interesting.  Our thinking machines are actually activated when something novel or unusual occurs, so that we can learn for the future.

The good news is once you get attention, you stand a chance of breaking up old patterns and creating new ones.  But the key is to get full 100% attention, in order to encourage the brain to learn so that patterns can be updated with new information.

In fact, this is such an important part of our biological design that our brains are actually hard-wired to seek out novelty and challenges.  When our mind stops to attention, it actually releases the feel good hormone dopamine, which gives your brain a boost of energy to rise to the challenge of "let's figure this out mode”.

Bottom line is you need to include some of the attention grabbing strategies that are mentioned in the book, Transform Your Safety Communication.  Otherwise, you're missing out on an important opportunity to change behaviour.

But there are also two other common ways that safety communicators create their communication, not realising that what they've created works against how the brain processes information.

That is, by creating information that's not relevant to the individual and by providing far more information than is necessary, particularly at the start of a piece of safety communication.

Remember, the brain is constantly looking at ways to save effort so that it doesn't get overloaded.  If you provide it with too much information, it desperately tries to seek an easy way to make sense of the information.

If you start talking about a process that people have been told about year after year, it will stop paying attention because it will believe it already knows the information.

In addition, if you provide too much information, it will also switch off because you've overloaded it.

Without knowing what makes people tick or how to make information easy to understand, it’s kind of like starting your engine with diesel when you really needed premium unleaded.  You might be able to start the car, with some of the attention grabbing strategies, but it’s not going to go very far.  It’s going to stall.

Winston Churchill quite rightly summed it up by saying “This report by its very length, defends itself against being read.” 

It’s the same with your audience.  No-one is going to read anything you write if it looks really long and unappealing.

A common mistake a lot of safety communicators makes is that they won’t start writing about a new safety procedure until they have every single little detail available, so they can write a massive piece of communication that's so comprehensive that people need to spend an hour reading it. 

Colin Powell, the former secretary of state for the US when he said, "I can make a decision with 30% of information.  Anything more than 80% is too much."

If you give people too much information, it stops them from making a decision.  That's because you're working against how their brain operates.

Essentially, what this means is that to get people to change their behaviour through safety communication you have to get their attention, but also provide them information that is easy for the brain to understand.  For example, wall to wall text and long complicated sentences is a big no-no.  But minimal text and lots of pictures is much more digestible to the brain.