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What Drives Behavior?

- March 22, 2018 by Trisha Rule (View all posts by Trisha)

We’ve all witnessed unsafe behaviors at work. But do you ever wonder what drives these behaviors? Is it lack of training or awareness?

Imagine the following scenario:

You see one of your employees smoking a cigarette on a break. You approach him as he is smoking and ask, “Do you know cigarettes can kill you?” Do you think he’ll quit smoking? I highly doubt it.

Contrary to what many believe, unsafe behaviors are not due to lack of training. Now, let’s analyze a different scenario.

Imagine that same smoker was told by his doctor at his last appointment that if he doesn’t quit smoking, he will die within two years. What do you think will happen when he leaves the doctor’s office? I’m confident that his chance of quitting has increased significantly.

However, the smoker didn’t receive new training and he wasn’t reprimanded by the doctor. So, what changed?

This is the concept of behavior-based safety. Our brain consists of two sides: the left side houses our knowledge and the right side houses our feelings.

What do you think drives our behavior? You guessed it; our feelings drive behavior.

The smoker already knew that cigarettes can cause cancer and kill people, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from smoking. Despite this knowledge, the right side of his brain kept telling him that smoking feels too good to give up. When the smoker was told by his doctor that he could die, emotions were triggered in the right side of his brain that made all of the knowledge stored on the left side suddenly become real. The knowledge he had about the dangers of smoking actually applied to him.

How do we apply this for changing behavior in the workplace?

Go to the safest worker at your company (every company has one), and ask that person to tell you their story. From personal experience, a painful incident most likely transformed that person into your safest worker. The pain, recovery time and the unfulfilled responsibilities for their family made them emotionally invested in safety. It’s their goal to ensure they never another accident.

Your safest worker is the person whose experience allows their brain to bridge the left and right side reinforcing what they know with what they feel and vice versa. This is a worker who will be safe at work and at home, who does not need to be monitored by the safety officer – this is the worker we all need and want!