Investigations and Truth Telling
One of the essentials to undertaking an investigation is truth telling. However, there are many dynamics in organizational culture that mitigate against truth telling. ‘Honesty may be the best policy’ but ‘blame is the big game’ when it comes to safety investigations, especially in zero organizations. It is not possible to create an open and honest investigation in a culture of intolerance. A zero tolerance culture is a sure fire way to quash truth telling.
The essential skill of opening questioning and the power of confession (essential for ownership and change) are foundational to counselling and investigation. It is unfortunate that such matters are not a critical part of the WHS curriculum (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/ ). Any drive that creates hiding, deception and denial is anti-therapeutic, anti-cathartic and anti-learning. When someone confesses to a wrongdoing or mistake there is opportunity for forgiveness and learning. This is one of the essentials of pastoral counselling and effective investigating. The skills of open questioning, truth telling and seeking confession are explored in the SEEK Investigations Program being delivered in Canberra on 5,6,7 July (http://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psyvhology-of-event-investigations-unit-2/ ).
I was once involved with an investigation regarding a truck roll over. Generally someone calls me after an investigation has expired and they have found the conclusion that is quick and easy but completely untruthful. By the time I get involved the subconscious damage has been done. The young driver was threatened by the whole investigation process and had engaged a lawyer from the outset at the advice of his parent. It was clear that the investigators didn’t have any skills or training in counselling or reflective listening, no skills in open questioning and little interest in truth telling. The company got the story they needed, the blame required and the sacking-payout-scapegoat they sought to appease the zero ideology of the organization. The investigation was undertaken by the Zero Harm Advisor. If that was the job title of someone coming to investigate me, I wouldn’t want to talk to you either. By the time I encountered the young person what had really been learned subconsciously was about Safety toxicity, Safety righteousness and a quest for a victim. He had also learned the hidden curriculum, that honesty is not the best policy.
The topic of truth telling has been in the airwaves since the inauguration of the Trump Presidency and more recently with the investigation into the Comey sacking (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-10/here27s-how-the-sacking-of-the-fbi-director-unfolded/8513522 ). What we learn from this circus is that blurring information and spreading ‘fake news’ is rarely named as propaganda and that ‘weasel words’ help people squirm out of truth telling. When the costs are great and the ‘sunk cost’ even greater, deception, misdirection and doubt serve as effective tools to ‘mask’ dishonesty. We learn from ‘Merchants of Doubt’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRenGy0cg5s) that one doesn’t have to technically lie to distort and shift focus to doubt as a method for avoidance and self interest.
Truth telling is expected as a foundational ethic in journalism (Kovach & Rosentiel (2014) The Elements of Journalism, What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect). Investigative journalism is driven by the ethic of truth telling. Unfortunately, many in the safety industry are not well educated in the core elements of historiography, deconstruction, investigative or critical thinking and don’t know how to tackle bias and assumptions in investigations. Lee (http://dlib.nyu.edu/undercover/sites/dlib.nyu.edu.undercover/files/documents/uploads/editors/Lee_Lying.pdf) discusses the nature of deception and demonstrates the kind of critical thinking skills required to deconstructing text, testimony and semiosis. Again, skills not provided in the WHS curriculum (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/). The essential skills of critical thinking were part of the recent iThink Masterclass conducted in Canberra (http://cllr.com.au/product/ithink-critical-thinking-dialectic-and-risk-unit-12/).
Truth telling is also an expected ethic in the law and investigation (http://sand-kas-ten.org/ijm/Chapter_8.pdf ). The issue of truth telling and the law is also discussed in Greg and my book Risky Conversations, the Law, Social Psychology and Risk (http://www.humandymensions.com/product/risky-conversations/). In one of the 22 videos in the book series we discuss how the ideology of zero quashes truth telling in our discussion on fear (https://vimeo.com/166935963). Fear of breaking the ideology of zero is a cultural artefact of the zero harm discourse. When numerics are paraded out from week to week and month to month the subconscious message is, don’t be the next number. When it emerges in an inquiry that the culture of the organization suppressed truth telling such as in the DeepWater Horizon Disaster (https://vimeo.com/163499152), the court has a field day. The BP ideology of zero played a significant factor in quashing and distorting truth telling on the rig.
There is an intimate connection between catharsis, truth telling and learning. If learning is the goal (not a number) then truth telling can be present in organizational culture. People who learn that a confession develops ownership and that ownership creates change, know that investigation style in investigation-for-learning is critical. This is where aspects of pastoral counselling skills is most helpful in investigations training. The core pastoral counselling skills that are helpful are: reflective listening, open questioning, suspending agenda, unconditional positive regard and ‘attending’. These skills are developed as part of the SEEK Investigations Program (http://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psyvhology-of-event-investigations-unit-2/) and practiced through micro-training (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8535.1978.tb00363.x/abstract ).
How can one expect truth telling when the ideology of an organization creates a culture for its suppression? How does the discourse of zero and associated intolerance quash truth telling? Just run a discourse in your own home of zero tolerance and zero mistakes and find out how quick the kids learn to tell you whatever you want to hear.