Models From Social Sensemaking

Social Sensemaking

In this piece I introduce you to two of the semiotic models developed in my first book Social Sensemaking. Firstly, The Decision Tree and then The Trade-offs Model.

The Decision Tree

Why is it challenging to accept that many of our ideas and thoughts originate in our unconscious? What is it that seduces us into believing that all of our decisions are clear ‘choices’; made rationally and logically? Finally, what do our social arrangements, our organising and our being in the world with others, have to do with the decisions we make?

These questions are explored in the Decision Tree which in the book I describe as:

 “…The model is meant to firstly symbolically differentiate between the factors relating to our decisions and judgments that occur in our non-conscious (non-exposed or symbolically ‘under the ground’) and then to highlight the things that we do as we make decisions (the branches) and then afterwards as we reflect and learn (open to view or ‘above the ground’ as in the exposed structure of the tree). The roots of the tree include the factors that relate to us as individuals and they are surrounded by the earth (soil) which is meant to symbolise the more social factors that impact on our decisions. They are depicted in the ‘messiness’ of the soil as a way to demonstrate that, not only are they often hidden from us (under the ground), but may be challenging to understanding being in the mix of the soil (dirt, rocks, humus, worms and subterranean bugs etc.) and the entanglement of the roots.”

Social Sensemaking (2016, p.53)

The Decision Tree was developed to provide a semiotic representation of ‘sensemaking’. It aims to represent what is a complex and multifaceted activity, into a format that may be easier to grasp; that is, via a model. However, as my friend Craig Ashhurst is known to suggest; “all models are wrong, but useful”. That is, a model is not intended as a ‘complete’, nor perfectly scientific explanation of how we make sense of things, rather it is a tool to prompt further thinking and hopefully discussion on the topic.

So how did we come to the representation of sensemaking?

To start, it was another model known as One Brain Three Minds, developed by Dr. Robert Long, that first caught our attention. This model introduces us to a way of appreciating the complexities of decision making, by helping us to recognise the importance, and the influence of, our unconscious (Mind 2 and 3). It also helps us to appreciate that our individual decision making is so much more than a simple ‘choice we make’.

Instead, there are many and varying factors that influence our decisions, including those associated with the way in which we organise ourselves, along with many societal or social factors. This is why in the Decision Tree model, we further explore these social influences and the many other varying and complex stimuluses that impact on decision making. If you’d like to learn more about the Decision Tree, you can watch this short video that I recently prepared.

Let’s now turn our attention to the next model, The Trade-offs Model.

The Trade-offs Model

Have you ever heard yourself suggesting emphatically that something, say for example; your health, your relationship with your child or your job, is your first priority? Why do we think like this? What is it that seduces us into such simplistic thinking? Can anything ever be our first priority, all of the time? Why might we struggle to accept that rather than having one key priority or focus, that instead we are constantly ‘trading-off’ in our decision making?

I explore these questions below as I introduce you to The Trade-Offs Model.

This model based on the work of Cameron and Quinn (2011) who, in their book Diagnosing and Changing Organisational Culture introduce us to the Competing Values Framework. It includes four quadrants, each depicting the different focuses (or values) that organisations may have. However, remember this is a model, and as such summarising complex ideas into a more simple framework comes with it’s own trade-offs and as noted above, may be ‘wrong, but useful’!

The four quadrants are; Collaborating, Creating, Controlling and Competing. The key argument put forward in the model is that while we may easily be misled into thinking that we can focus equally on all four of these areas all of the time, in reality, we are forced in many ways to choose between them. That is, in order to focus on one thing more than another, we are required to trade-off something else.

Sensemaking and ‘choices’ may also bring with them a sense of tension and unease, as we go about ‘trading-off’. We can’t be sure in knowing what is the ‘right’ or ‘correct’ choice or decision. As a way of coping with this, we ‘satisfice‘ and may develop hubris or over confidence. This may mean that we become blind to the tension of trade-offs and perhaps even deceived into thinking that our decisions are not without consequence or significance.

Maybe this is a necessary way to handle the tension in decision making, for if we were to become too consumed by this, conceivably, we would not be able to cope? Equally though, if we do not accept and be present to our often contradictory ways of sensemaking and the tension of the trade-offs, conceivably we would not learn and this would impact on how we understand and discern risk?

You can learn more about the Trade-offs model in this short video.

It is almost two years since Social Sensemaking was published. The learning, pondering and reflecting continue, as does my understanding of sensemaking.

Maybe that is because sensemaking is an ongoing activity rather than something that is done or completed. Maybe also it ought be understood dialectically, with the necessary tension and also uncertainty. Maybe we are moved too easily to believe that we ‘know’ something, rather than accept the role of faith in sensemaking? There seem many questions.

How do you make sense of risk?

Author:           Robert Sams



Book:               Social Sensemaking – Click HERE to Order

Support and Empowerment in Helping Others

How may our worldview influence our method when it comes to training and also helping others? If we do not acknowledge our own worldview, what impact may this have in how we support others? Also, how can we even begin to ponder what our worldview is, and so consider the above questions, if we don’t take the time to reflect and deeply contemplate on who we are and what we bring to a helping relationship?

These are questions that surfaced for me as I attended a ‘train the trainer’ program for a suicide alertness program called safeTALK last week. I have previously shared a short introduction to the program ( and as noted in that piece, I would further explore its methodology. This is what I intend to do here.

Read the full post first published HERE.

I was Offloaded!

Why is it that even with ample information, and despite ‘knowing‘ differently, that sometimes our ‘feeling of risk’ may override, or at least heavily influence, our response to it? Also, how could someone who has studied and reflected on it in a rather intimate way for the last six years, not control or change their feelings about risk?

What do I mean? If you can bear with me, I’ll explain by sharing a short personal story about a recent overseas trip.

Read the full article which was first published HERE.

Do we Need a Different Way of Being in Safety?

There are many people working in Safety who seek a ‘different’ way of engaging with others, and rightly so. The current policing and patrolling approaches adopted by many, seem to be doing little to support people in how they tackle the challenges of risk. Some even suggest that rather than being a problem, people are the solution; a creditable idea, but what might this mean in practice?

There are a few questions that come to mind when considering this ‘new view’ in Safety, including:

· How can we adopt an approach focused more on people if we don’t also broaden our ‘way of being’ from the deep-seated STEM focus that currently dominates Safety’s discourse?

· If we are to see people as a ‘solution’[1], how do we then resist also viewing them as objects to be studied and corrected, and instead see them as subjects (people) to be ‘met’?

· How do we deal with the often unrecognised and unconscious social forces in our modern world, that drive us toward individualistic thinking and steer us toward being an expert in others?

Counter intuitively, perhaps the answers to these questions may lie outside of Safety’s traditional literature, studies and references? Conceivably we also require a different ‘way of being’ if Safety is really going to be ‘different’? So where else can we look for guidance on this?

Read the full article first published HERE.

The Mystery and Paradox of Being an Individual in a Social World

I had the privilege today to meet up with a friend, one who I’ve known for a while, yet up until today we’d not had the opportunity to meet in person, so we both made the time and effort to catch up.

We shared in a wholesome conversation, one where we wrestled with the tension and paradoxical challenges that we all experience in a life of; ‘being an individual in a social world[1]. More on this theme soon, first though I’d like to share a little about the conversation itself.

It was a mostly unexpected discussion, not planned other than the time and venue. Much emerged as we sat with each other and there were moments that felt like ‘meeting’ (Buber); where it was just the two of us. This, despite being in a place with many other people. There was little in terms of agenda, so the conversation just flowed.

We found ourselves conversing on many personal topics including; addiction, pain and suicide. I accept these are not topics ordinarily discussed amongst friends, as for many, they are taboo. But this didn’t stop us. Our conversation was more meaningful, honest and deeper than most, while also uplifting, stimulating and enriching.

Afterwards as I reflected on how easy the conversation seemed, I pondered on what made it feel easy. It certainly wasn’t the topics; although ironically maybe it was? One thing I did recognise though was that having little agenda, meant that there were also minimal expectations. Maybe that created a greater chance of just ‘being’ with each other?

This caused me to think back to times where I previously thought I was having similar conversations while working in Safety. Although, comparing the type of conversation I shared in today with those while working in Safety isn’t really possible, because those conversations are typically full (even overflowing) with agenda; around control, fixing, and correcting behaviour.

Thankfully, my conversations have changed in recent years; they are now more regularly focused on the other person, especially when they are the ones who seek out the conversation. It has not always been like this though, as ‘telling’ is a hard habit to, firstly acknowledge, and then break. I regularly fall back into the trap of telling, but thankfully not during this conversation.

This point reminds me of something that Carl Rogers, the founder of ‘person centred therapy’, wrote during a reflection of his own practice in his book On Becoming a Person (1961):

“One brief way of describing the change which has taken place in me is to say that in my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change the person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” (p. 32)

This resonates strongly with me; how about you?

Read the full post, first published HERE.

Social Sensemaking – Auckland Workshop – 14 May 2018

So What is Social Sensemaking?

As author Rob Sams notes, the book and the idea itself of ‘sensemaking’, was born from a search for a more humanistic approach and methodology to supporting people to deal with risk. That is because to make sense of risk, we need to commune and converse with others; that is, it is a social activity.

The book is a collaboration of stories and experiences in how we make sense of decisions and judgments; particularly about risk. It questions the traditional controlling and dictating methods that can be too easily adopted by the Risk, Safety and HR fields, and offers ideas that are more ‘humanising’.

So what can you expect in this Workshop?

In this practical and interactive presentation, we take participants through a number of the tools presented in the book including ‘One Brain Three Minds’©*, the ‘Trade-offs’ model© and the ‘Decision Tree’©.

We also share some of the challenges of moving toward a more holistic understanding and application of risk in the workplace. This includes how we’ve dealt with our own cognitive dissonance after many years of practicing the traditional approach that was focused on control, rather than understanding and supporting people so that they may better discern risk for themselves.



Program Outline

The presentation is broken into three sections, including:

1. Better understanding our Self in order to understand (and communicate with) others

  • Our different perceptions – how we all ‘think’ differently
  • Tools and Models to better understand ‘sensemaking’ including One Brain Three Minds©* – a model to decision making (introducing the conscious and non-conscious in decision making), the Decision Tree© and the Trade Offs Model©.
  • Personality Types – a short introduction to the Jungian Four Temperament types and why these matter in communication. This will be a very practical introduction rather than one based solely on theory.

2. The role of the non-conscious in communication.

  • Tackling a ‘Telling’ Society- the gentle art of asking more and telling less
  • Being aware of our own agenda ‘Suspending’ our own agenda
  • Understanding why this is so hard – what is it about our society that makes listening challenging and telling easy?

3. Making Sense of Risk – a Social Perspective

  • We are social beings, what role does this play in communication?
  • How we make sense of things through interacting and conversing with others

The Workshop will provide practical, interactive and hands on experiences to embed learning. This will include providing models and tools for participants to ‘take-away’ and apply in their work environment.

Take-aways and Tools

Everyone attending the Workshop will recieve a copy of Social Sensemaking along with the various tools and models noted above.

Book Your Place

*used with permission Dr Robert Long

Human Being and Becoming

I’m enjoying reading David G. Benner’s Human Being and Becoming ( at the moment; I’m on my third read.

Here are some quotes from the read on my flight home this afternoon:

“Ultimately, we need a meaning that will be strong enough to make suffering sufferable… But for meaning to be useful, it has to help us live a life as it actually is, not as we wish it might be” (p. 40)

“One of the worst things a psychotherapist can do is to relieve people of their suffering before they have helped them discover its meaning” (p. 41)

“Showing hospitality to suffering starts with releasing that inner constriction. Letting it go makes space for you to meet and show hospitality to the uninvited guest that has suddenly appeared in your home. Rather than trying to drive suffering out, get to know it. Listen to it – to the questions it asks of you, not the questions you want to ask of it.” (p. 42)

“What we need is not to figure out the meaning of life but to discover a meaningful way of living life. For this to happen, we must allow the meaning to emerge from life itself, not what we can get out of it. This is the essence of spirituality, which is, as its core, a way of living in relation to a self-transcendent framework of meaning and purpose”. (p.43)

“Meaningful ways of living are never found in the safety of an armchair or ivory tower. They are found in the risky, vulnerable places of real life. They are found in living, not in books, lectures or sermons. Ideas presented in books may come to form a place in a meaningful life, but if they are to help make suffering sufferable and life meaningful, they will always be rooted in an openness to and affirmation of, life as it is.” (p. 46)

I was gifted my copy and would like to reciprocate. If you would like a copy, share your thoughts on the reflections above and I’ll to pass on.

Human Being and Becoming.

Rob Sams

In This Together

The Importance of Social Identity in Health – Including Dealing with Pain

We know that humans are social beings. That is, we long for, and need connection with others. It is at the very heart of what it means to our being as a human. We know also that on the flip side of this is that social isolation is one of the greatest causes of depression and anxiety.

In this article we highlight the power in our social connections and the importance of social identity in our overall health; including pain and injury. This short piece includes a number of references and links to different articles and papers that explore the role that ‘community’ can play in adopting a more holistic approach to health. We’d love to hear your feedback.

How the modern world makes us mentally ill

Published by: The Book of Life

In this piece, published on The Book of Life website, the author considers how our busy modern world may be making us sick. In response to this they offer that:

“A cure would be a culture that endlessly promotes the idea that perfection is not within our grasp – that being mentally slightly (and at points very) unwell is an inescapable part of the human condition and that what we need above all are good friends with whom we can sit and honestly discuss our real fears and vulnerabilities.”

Read the full article HERE.

“In this together”: Social identification predicts health outcomes (via self-efficacy) in a chronic disease self-management program

Published by: Social Science and Medicine

The Abstract of this scientific journal publication notes that:

“Self-management programs are an established approach to helping people cope with the challenges of chronic disease, but the psychological mechanisms underlying their effectiveness are not fully understood. A key assumption of self-management interventions is that enhancing people’s self-efficacy (e.g., via the development of relevant skills and behaviours) encourages adaptive health-related behaviors and improved health outcomes. However, the group-based nature of the programs allows for the possibility that identification with other program members is itself a social psychological platform for positive changes in illness-related confidence (i.e., group-derived efficacy) and physical and mental health.”

Read the full article HERE.

The town that’s found a potent cure for illness – community

Published by:  in The Guardian

In this piece, the author George offers that:

It could, if the results stand up, be one of the most dramatic medical breakthroughs of recent decades. It could transform treatment regimes, save lives, and save health services a fortune. Is it a drug? A device? A surgical procedure? No, it’s a newfangled intervention called community.

Read the full article HERE.

The power of social connections and the rise of social prescribing

By: Daniel Frings

In this article, published on the Psychologyitbetter website, the write suggests that:

“One way of dealing with stress is to draw on the positive social identities in our lives. A growing body of research suggests that the social connections we have can buffer us from the effects of traumatic events, improve mental health and also let us bounce back from physical ailments more quickly. In the guise of ‘social prescribing’, this idea is also increasingly being used to find ways to replace or compliment medicine.:

Read the full article HERE.

The village effect

By: Robert Sams

In this previous blog article, I offer that:

Understandably, the typical approach to treating injuries and illnesses is to send people to specialists in the field related to their injury, and of course this makes sense and most people will recover and return to life and work.

For some people though recovery is delayed or prolonged, and some may experience ‘secondary illnesses’ such as anxiety and depression. The challenges of recovering from injury can be overwhelming. So what can we do when these traditional approaches don’t seem to be working and signs of anxiety or depression start to show?

If we are interested in exploring options outside of the traditional approaches, we could learn a thing or two from Susan Pinker who, in her book The Village Effect, explores “how face-to-face contact can make us healthier, happier and smarter”. Being with other people can enhance our well-being and support recovery from injury and illness.

Read the full article HERE.

Book Recommendation:

Making Sense of Illness: The Social Psychology of Health and Disease

By: Alan Radley

I referenced this book, and others by Radley when I wrote my paper titled Why is the mental health of workers so poorly dealt with by organisations? ( which I wrote as part of my studies in The Social Psychology of Risk. This paper was for Unit 6 – Holistic Ergonomics.

The Goodreads website notes about the book Making Sense of Illness:

This book is a “must read” for all students of health psychology, and will be of considerable interest and value to others interested in the field. The discipline has not involved itself with the central issues of this book so far, but Radley has now brought this material together in an accessible way, offering important new perspectives, and directions for the discipline. This book goes a long way towards making sense for, and of, health psychology’ – Journal of Health Psychology

What are people’s beliefs about health? What do they do when they feel ill? Why do they go to the doctor? How do they live with chronic disease?

Read more about the book HERE.

Full book siting: Radley, A. (1994) Making Sense of Illness: The Social Psychology of Health and Disease. SAGE Publications. London

Introducing Hayden Collins

An Addition to our Community in Practice

This month we introduce one of our Community in Practice, Hayden Collins.

Hayden Collins is a specialist in risk, human judgement and decision making, organisational culture, leadership, communication and learning. Hayden provides training, advice, coaching and mentoring for leaders, managers, supervisors and workers.

Hayden is able to help organisations apply the fundamentals of social psychology to leadership and team development. He has developed and delivered training programs covering a range of subjects including; risk and safety leadership, organisational culture awareness and assessment, and communication and team-building.

Hayden has 13 years experience in leadership roles within large Tier 1 national and multinational organisations across a range of industries including: heavy industrial manufacturing, FMCG manufacturing and construction.

Hayden currently lives in Melbourne with his wife Olivia. He enjoys learning about himself and his environment, spending spare time exploring the arts and culture of Melbourne, reading philosophy, and meaningful conversations with friends.

Hayden has the following qualifications:

  • Graduate Diploma  in the Social Psychology of Risk
  • Graduate Certificate in OH&S
  • Advanced  Diploma in Environmental Technology,
  • Certificate IV Training & Assessment,
  • MPTI Facilitator Certification – Stage 1 and 2 (Coaching)
  • RABQSA-OH (Management Systems Auditing)

You can learn more about Hayden and his work at Risk Intelligence HERE.

March 2018

Pilot Program with BlueScope

Social Sensemaking Program

The team at Dolphyn continue our work with BlueScope, piloting our Social Sensemaking program across sites in NSW and QLD.

We start with the MiProfile Survey (developed by Dr Rob Long, see – which helps us better understand how sites or the organisation as a whole, think collectively and unconsciously.

Rob Sams, along with Gab Carlton from Resilyence ( who has many years experience in conducting the survey, work with Hayden Collins from Risk Intelligence (, who’s analytical and critical thinking skills mean that we can challenge assumptions and support organisational learning through conducting the survey.

The outcomes of the Mi-Profile are then presented to the site along with recommendations for a tailor made program that is aimed to address challenges, and support strengths, identified within the organisation. These programs are delivered by Dolphyn’s experience team who all have post-graduate qualifications in The Social Psychology of Risk.

One of the keys to the success of our program with BlueScope is the upskilling of their internal team as we progress through it. BlueScope’s leading manager on the project, Stephanie O’Dwyer, who is now studying with the CLLR (, has been co-facilitating many of the workshops with Rob Sams. This provides a more holistic learning and change program for BlueScope that will also ensure its sustainability.

Stephanie recently started a session in Brisbane by asking; “what’s the riskiest thing  you’ve done?”.

The learning started from there.

March 2018