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Business Insight: Beware warning signs to prevent workplace violence

Published April 27, 2012 3:54 pm

Key steps can help keep incidents, behaviors from spiraling out of control.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mike Staver, creator of the audio and video series "21 Ways to Defuse Anger and Calm People Down" (http://www.thestavergroup.com), says there are myriad ways to defuse anger in the workplace before it escalates to violence or even homicide. He notes the Department of Labor reports that violence-related incidents are the fourth-leading cause of occupational injuries, and the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.

What are primary triggers that lead to violence?

Most people believe that it occurs when someone is angry about certain circumstances. The truth is, they get angry over what they believe about the circumstances. When a person gets angry, it's because at least one of three primary triggers is in place. They feel a situation is unfair. This is out of my control. And this is personal, it's happening to me. The more intensely the person feels these factors, the worse the violence can get.

Describe the warning signs.

When the triggers listed are present, they can manifest themselves in many ways. The angry employee might simply have a drop in performance level. He or she might make threatening comments to another employee or about the company in general. Or in extreme circumstances, the employee might resort to worse violence. An angry employee will go through certain stages and behaviors that indicate how advanced the anger is. In the "event" stage, the person might complain, whine or make annoyed facial expressions. In the "escalation" stage, there might be pacing, slamming of door, use of a raised voice or personal insults. And in the "crisis" stage, the person might throw things, resort to verbal and physical attacks, yell, or more.

How can violent situations can be defused?

The key to preventing workplace violence is knowing what to do when you see that a co-worker might be susceptible to these triggers or is displaying other warning signs — such as bullying co-workers, substance abuse, frequently discussing marital or other non-professional problems or making idle threats. Focus on the problem not the person. You know you are seeing improvement if the angry person admits mistakes readily, apologizes and commits to change behavior. Once the angry person is calm it is important that they be expected to commit to new behavior and not be allowed to justify or rationalize behaviors that are obviously out of line. First and foremost, take all warning signs very seriously. Second, and this is just as important, report it right away. Far too often co-workers don't report these incidents. They believe the popular myth that people who make threats don't act on them. They don't want to seem like alarmists. They fear they'll become a target, or that there isn't a sufficient workplace-safety and incident-reporting system in place. But when you suspect something is wrong, you should report it right away. If the leadership at your organization isn't taking it seriously, then go to the authorities.

What kind of training should companies implement?

All organizations should make sure that they have workplace violence policies in place, that all employees have a clear understanding of the policies, and that all employees know how to take action and what to expect when they do report an incident. Managers and leaders should also be well trained in how to defuse anger and to know what kinds of situations are out of their control. Although it is unlikely you will ever have to deal with a person who is violent, you probably will encounter people who are angry and ranting. Threats are always to be taken seriously and should always be reported. No amount of intervention guarantees the prevention of angry outbursts, but using these strategies can help you cope.

Dawn House

dawn@sltrib.com

Twitter@DawnHouseTrib Mike Staver, anger expert