Bridging a generation gap improves safety on fishing boats

Good communication is an important part of safety for fishing crews, especially when people of different generations are working together on boats. 

Photo of WorkSafeBC health and safety officer Jessie Kunce

Photo of Jessie Kunce
Photo credit: © WorkSafeBC (Workers’ Compensation
Board of B.C.), used with permission

Effective communication is key to working safely in any industry. But communicating effectively can be a challenge when different generations of people work together. (Read more in my post Talking safety with different generations in the workplace.)

Recently I spoke about inter-generational communication with Jessie Kunce, a WorkSafeBC occupational safety officer who works with the fishing industry. Jessie shared his advice on Reducing the risk of capsizing in the July/August 2020 issue of WorkSafe Magazine. In it, he stressed the importance of good communication for crew safety.

I asked Jessie about the communication challenges — and solutions — he’s seen in the fishing industry. He says: “There’s often a mix of aging masters with a lot of knowledge to share, and new workers who might not understand what the masters are talking about. Often the different demographics just don’t ‘get’ each other. This is a huge issue because communication is everything.”

It’s important that all members of the crew — engine room operators, mates, and deckhands — can communicate freely and receive further explanations if they require. “If someone questions a decision, they may really just need more information to understand it. Especially if a decision puts them in a dangerous situation, they should be able to ask — uninhibited, but also respectfully,” Jessie says.

When you don’t understand, you have to listen even harder

To improve communication, all generations need to practice their listening skills. (But then, don’t we all?!)

“When you don’t understand, you have to listen even harder. You could rephrase your question. State back what you thought you just heard and make sure you get full clarification,” Jessie says. “For workers, listening and understanding information is key to carrying out instructions successfully. In many cases, even doing a minor thing incorrectly could contribute to a vessel failure or another catastrophic event, so precision is important.”

For masters, Jessie recommends they learn to understand their workers. What motivates them? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Do they prefer more positive reinforcement? Positive reinforcement might not come naturally to a generation that was raised with a different style of communication — especially if they’re feeling frustrated by trying to explain something. Supervisor training that highlights effective communication could be a useful way for masters to enhance their skills.

“For someone to really listen and respond to a leader, they need to trust first and foremost that the leader has their best interests in mind,” Jessie says. “People need to know that leaders are well-meaning and well-intentioned.”

Thanks to Jessie for talking with me. Do you have any tips or stories to share about working with people of different generations?

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