by guest author Gary Phillips

A good friend, Gary Phillips, recently posted the following article on his blog. I found it so interesting I contacted Gary to share it with all our readers… Gary is a Safety Professional, the article is directed to his clients, I’m sure you will see that his knowledge expands far beyond safety in the workplace.

One critical linguistic structure, related to the concept that the brain is literal and people’s attention will go where directed, is the phenomenon of presuppositions. These are utterances, or phrases, that carry with them something that is already presupposed by that phrase. If the receiver does not challenge the utterance immediately, it generally means that, at the unconscious level, they have “bought into” the presupposition.

Here is 1 example of a presupposition.

“Can I help you?” – When someone walks into your office and you say, “How can I help you?” it presupposes you’re the helper and you’re in charge of the helping process. Then, who is helpless? The other person is.

As soon as they, in response, utter a single syllable, without challenging the presupposition, they’ve unconsciously “bought into” this relationship of dependency. This only reinforces traditional approaches that the leader is responsible for safety behavior, not the worker. “How can I help you?” creates dependant people. Avoid creating dependant people.

Avoid asking, “How can I help you?” A better, neutral question is “What’s up”, no presupposition implied. Dealing with this presupposition has broad applicability, well beyond safety applications. The Art of Safety also expands on why verbally presented information further creates dependency, while visual information empowers.

Even the most practiced leaders and professionals are often unaware of how they come across both verbally and non-verbally, and how they create the reality of the workplace by shaping how it’s experienced.

Small improvements in communication techniques pay big dividends in maintaining positive relationships and error-free performance.

© 2008 Gary Phillips – Gary is a Safety Professional, consultant and trainer with decades of experience applying advanced communication skills to the fields of Occupational Safety and Leadership Development. From his home in the cottage country of Northern Ontario he offers services worldwide through NW Training and Development and is a widely sought after speaker and trainer. Gary Phillips is available for conference and workshop presentations. Visit or call (888) 622-9653.

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