Interrogation by Another Name
Effective response to events (investigation) is not about Technique, neither is humble enquiry about Technique (Technique is the ideology of efficiency – Ellul) or style of questions. The beginning and foundation for an effective response to any event is ethics.
To do investigations differently requires a change in disposition (change in ethic). It’s so interesting to read claims to ‘difference’ and then read what is being discussed and realise there is no difference (https://www.worksafetyhub.com.au/). So much of what one reads in the ‘differently’ genre of safety never discusses ethics even though it talks about it. You won’t find anything helpful from the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics either (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ ). The last thing to help in responding to events effectively is a deontological ethic.
Whilst it’s good to recognize the dangers of interrogation in the name of safety, simply shifting question style doesn’t change the nature (ethic) of interrogation. Yes, linguistics are critical but only after one moves away from a disposition (ethic) of control to a disposition of relinquishing control. Giving up control is the great ‘no-no’ of Safety. The words ‘control’ and ‘controls’ frame the very identity of traditional safety. No surprise that the AIHS BoK Chapter on ethics is framed by duty and in no place, discusses the nature of power or personhood. Most claims to be doing ‘safety differently’ are also couched in terms of method and questioning that take back control especially, control of process. The slogan ‘people are not problems to control but resources to harness’ is an example of no difference in ethic.
When one surrenders control one is not interested in feelings, causes or actions but rather in persons. Without an ethic of personhood, it’s not likely that one is doing much that is ‘different’. Similarly. the last place to seek any help in effectiveness in response to events is in Science or Engineering. These disciplines are a hindrance not a help in responding to events. It’s going to be pretty difficult to get out of a foundational disposition given by Safety when one has been conditioned in Safety by ‘controls’, duty and Science.
Most people who undertake the SEEK program (https://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psychology-of-event-investigations-unit-2-elearning/ ) struggle with letting go of safety foundations. Who would have thought that the best way to become effective at response to events is to give up the foundational loves of Safety: power, duty and control. Many who take on the SEEK Program find it very difficult after many years in safety to actually listen, especially when they think they are already listening. Here are a few tips to responding to events differently:
- One of the first things to give up in an effective response to an event is the need to know why or find cause. (Most who start SEEK find this nearly impossible).
- Give away the myth of neutrality/objectivity, and own a better disposition (ethic) more suited to event response. Bias in itself is not the problem in event response but rather false consciousness that blocks openness to the ‘other’.
- It is a difficult thing is to hand over power to the ‘other’. Without an ethical understanding of power, no amount of Technique will make any difference to an inquiry. If one wants to understand ‘humble enquiry’ (Schein) then begin by understanding an ethic of powerlessness and personhood. Humble enquiry is NOT about utility but rather disposition/orientation. Humble enquiry is not a Technique to be applied to a situation.
- The beginning of effectiveness in enquiry response are: disposition, orientation and, an ethic of personhood.
- ‘Active listening’ is not a Technique either but rather an orientation. The first aspect of active listening is ‘attending’ (Rogers), this is a reference to the way one is oriented to the ‘other’, and this has nothing to do with Technique.
- Giving ownership to the ‘other’ is critical in event response. This means allowing the ‘other’ to direct both process and purpose.
- Good questioning emerges out of a disposition (ethic) that relinquishes the kind of power that Safety conditions people to have. Most safety investigation training actually prepares people to be very poor at engagement and event response.
- Open questioning is also not about Technique but orientation/disposition. I have written about this before (https://safetyrisk.net/questioning-skills-and-investigations/ ). Effective open questions are rarely ever about feelings, emotions or thinking. Effective questioning is about handing over power to the ‘other’.
- The focus of enquiry into any event is NOT to seek information. Rather, the purpose is to help facilitate the ‘other’ to tell their story as they determine.
- Developing trust is not about Technique or style but rather disposition/orientation/ethic.
If these points above seem difficult or perhaps counter-intuitive then they pose a foundational challenge at the level of ethics. If your investigations training doesn’t start with ethics then it’s not about ethical investigation.