It is unfortunate that the word ‘investigation’ in the risk and safety industry has come to mean ‘interrogation’. However, the word really just means a systematic enquiry and analysis. Perhaps this focus on interrogation comes from the idea that if someone has been harmed then someone must be at fault or have committed a crime? Any analysis of an event should be undertaken in a nature of discovery learning, exploration and ‘sifting’ and this relies on skills in effective questioning.
When we do the SEEK program (https://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psychology-of-event-investigations-unit-2-elearning/) I get surprised at how many people in risk and safety have never had training in the fundamental skills of questioning and listening. It tends to be assumed that such skills are natural, objective and simple. It is also assumed that risk and safety is about ‘telling’.
In some ways questioning and listening skills are simple but in other ways not, it all depends on one’s disposition. Whilst it is good to know what an open question is that doesn’t mean one will be good at asking it. Effective questioning and listening are not about technique.
One can see questioning and listening as a matter of technique but that is not where questioning and listening skill development starts. Yes, it’s good to know what the skills of questioning and listening are (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_88.htm) but none of this will ‘work’ unless one brings an attitude of personhood to the conversation.
Here are a few disposition tips:
One of the most important aspects of questioning concerns purpose, this will unconsciously affect how you approach the person or persons.
2. Power and Control
If one comes to a conversation with a need to ‘tell’, hold power and control, then there will be no discovery learning, exploration or listening.
3. Relinquishing Power and Control
One cannot come into a conversation with some pre-set idea of where it will go. A good questioner knows how to relinquish control to the other, listen and pursue their agenda, not one’s own agenda.
4. The Self
It is interesting that one needs to be confident in one’s ability to ad lib and follow the other. If one doesn’t really know what to do, is anxious and focused on technique, things won’t go well.
Many people think you need to fill the silence in the air with something and miss the point of effective stance, body language and what counsellors call ‘attending’.
Impatience to get an outcome can be one of the worst approaches to questioning. I often say to people about in SEEK training that if they are busy and things are hectic, don’t go out expecting an effective conversation.
7. Practice and Supervision
The only way to get really good at questioning and listening is to undertake practice and be supervised and mentored. In SEEK we often do this through micro-training methodology. Micro-training has been common in the helping professions for 50 years. Getting good at effective questioning and listening takes some time to get good.
8. Pitching, Framing, Priming, Anchoring and Reframing
These skills are essential in any enquiry and in SEEK we spend considerable time practicing them. Even then to do them naturally takes much more practice and time.
9. The Atom and Cup of Coffee
In SEEK we use the metaphors of the atom and a coffee cup to denote what a conversation is about. The atom reminds us that reductionism rarely works in effective questioning. The atom reminds us that drilling down to detail and focusing on objects rarely engenders trust in the other. The coffee cup reminds us that we need to suspend our agenda when approaching others and this is the foundation of effective listening. This is often the biggest challenge for safety people, they find it so hard to let go of power in the moment.
10. Hello, My Unconscious is Speaking
Part of the skill in listening is hearing when someone gives you vital information, language and metaphor you have not asked for. Indeed, when people trust you, you will be surprised what they will tell you.
It would be wrong to see these 10 tips as also technique or some kind of engineering mechanism. Good conversation, questioning and listening is much more about poetics than measurement. It is a strange paradox that the more you quest for important detail, the less you will get it and, the more you attend to the person, trust and listening, the more important detail they will give you.
You can study SEEK online with Dr Long here: https://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psychology-of-event-investigations-unit-2-elearning/)