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No. 31 – Start with Other’s Needs First

June 29, 2011

As a Radiation Safety Officers you are responsible for implementing the requirements of your radioactive materials license, your radiation safety program, and applicable laws. There are many ways to implement these requirements. One is by direct orders to workers under your jurisdiction. But, what do you do when workers rebel against your direct orders? Do you raise the level of threat and demand compliance? Certainly this is the example typically set for us by some regulatory authorities. Suppose, however, that one of your workers questions the need for certain requirements in the name of radiation safety, are you open to hearing their side of the story?

For example, what if a researcher questions the need for keeping all laboratory doors locked as a way of securing radioactive materials. Although this is only a security requirement for unattended rooms, it is commonly applied all the time, even when the rooms are attended. Will the radiation safety of workers or the public be adversely affected if a worker leaves a laboratory door unlocked and radioactive materials unsecured while he is away at the rest room? What if the materials are at a concentration below that requiring labeling? Do they still require the same security?

How do you respond to such questions? Do you tell the worker that the security policy is a requirement without exception? Or, do you talk with the worker about his needs and how the security policy affects him? The latter option may build better bridges for communication and long term cooperation. People will more likely respond positively when approached in terms of their needs rather than your own. In other words, for more effective communication, start with the other person’s agenda and work towards your own.

This may sound opposite to normal communication, which is to take the initiative to state your needs first. However, sales people know to start with the customer’s needs first and then go to the product, because this approach leads to sales better than extolling the virtues of a product to someone who is not interested. A wise manager also starts with the employee’s complaint and then goes with her own agenda. A good instructor starts with the student’s interests and needs and moves them toward the lesson. To determine the other person’s needs and agenda, you begin your communication by asking questions.

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