Creating psychological safety matters in any workplace, but in the oil and gas industry, that safety can make all the difference in maintaining a physically safe workplace.
That’s where John Menzies comes in. As a certified trainer at Plains—a midstream company that sources raw products and processes them into end-user oil and gas products in the U.S. and Canada—Menzies seeks to equip everyone with the skills to speak up and have Crucial Conversations, from frontline leaders and influencers to the unionized foundational workforce.
“Our goal is to create a safe environment, where all our procedures ensure the safety of our employees, the public, the environment, and our assets,” he said.
That means creating a culture where everyone in the organization can ask questions and voice concerns, regardless of title or experience level.
“Safety means being able to say, ‘I don’t understand this’ in a meaningful way so we can have that conversation,” Menzies said. “When an employee feels safe to ask questions regardless of time in the role, and a leader makes it safe to ask questions, then there’s less of a chance a question isn’t answered.”
Menzies brings a unique skill set to Plains—he has operational experience that helps him relate to the frontline workers, plus a passion for personal development. This combination positions him well for spearheading the companywide initiative to roll out Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue to any of Plains’ more than 4,200 employees who want the training.
“I’m always grateful to have two days of someone’s life, to create the experience and event for them,” he said.
Noting the importance of the training and subsequent conversations, the company has provided space and time to train every employee in the district.
Questions and clear expectations are vital starting points for communication among Plains employees, Menzies said. He referenced Nancy Willard’s quote, “Answers are closed rooms; and questions are open doors that invite us in.”
“We want those questions,” he said. “Their headspace, their ability to be fit for duty—we support that environment where employees are not only physically fit for duty but also mentally fit for duty, where no one shows up to the job upset or thinking about a negative interaction or anything less than a meaningful interaction. If they feel safe, they’re more likely to be safe and have their mind on their task.”
Another important facet of Menzies’s Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue approach is explaining how brain chemistry changes when someone is in fight or flight—a concept that may be unfamiliar to those in his workforce.
“The brain doesn’t know if the threat is physical or emotional, and someone going into the facility for work who emotionally isn’t fit for duty puts themselves and others at risk,” he said. “You wouldn’t send someone who just got hit in the head with a baseball bat out to the facility. So don’t send someone out who’s been hit by an invisible baseball bat and expect them to perform the same way. Avoid that scenario. Do what you need to do to invite them to dialogue.”
Success comes as people are more open and willing to move from silence and engage in dialogue, Menzies said, and as decision-makers have conversations that help them make smarter decisions as a group.
“I believe that being exposed to the tools and the opportunity to practice Crucial Conversations changes people’s lives,” Menzies said. “You can’t unhear it, and you can’t unknow it. You can choose to ignore it. You can choose to fool yourself that you’re right. That’s an option you have once you know it, but you can’t unknow it.”