You can decrease the odds of workplace violence by knowing the warning signs, reporting any violent or potentially violent behavior, and learning to effectively deal with stress and conflicts. Remember to report all forms of violence that occur in the workplace. By informing your supervisors and security of potentially dangerous individuals, you could save lives—even your own.
Forms of Workplace Violence
- Verbal outbursts
- Sexual assault
Verbal Outbursts Can Be Serious
Verbal outbursts are important to address, because they can often signal more serious violence to come. Verbal attacks can include:
How to Avoid Physical Confrontations
- Do not approach, touch, chastise, or have prolonged eye contact with an agitated individual.
- Do not use derogatory hand gestures toward a hostile person.
- Resist being drawn into a person’s hostile environment by arguing back with them.
- Do not use patronizing, belittling, or condescending language toward a hostile person.
- Do not have an antagonistic approach to a heated disagreement. If a person is mentally unstable, their logic and reasoning are gone. Let the situation de-escalate by walking away.
- Don’t take sides in an argument. Everyone will end up shouting and no one will accomplish anything except adding to the hostility.
- Try to be diplomatic in written correspondence when expressing a complaint. Don't use aggressive terminology in expressing your feelings because you won't win their opinion or cooperation.
- Don’t allow yourself to be cornered by a hostile person. Do not corner an irate individual either. Leave escape routes. Cornering will only create a "fight or flight" situation.
- NOTE: Never use a weapon such as a "stun gun" or chemical spray when a situation involves only your feelings being hurt. Spraying someone with mace makes you the aggressor and could get you arrested for assault. The person could have a heart or respiratory condition you are unaware of.
Know the Warning Signs
Most cases of workplace violence don't just happen. The best way to identify potential violence is to recognize warning signs.
Anger and violence can occur when:
- A person is not satisfied with a service
- A person has to wait
- Mistakes are made
- Promises are not kept
A threat is the clearest indicator that violence will follow. There are three types of threats:
- Direct threats: "I'll get even with him."
- Veiled threats: "This place would shut down for days if the mainframe crashed and the backup were damaged."
- Conditional threats: "If I don’t get my financial aid, there'll be hell to pay."
There are other signs that usually accompany a threat. A potentially violent person:
- Is unusually argumentative
- Doesn’t cooperate
- Demonstrates extreme or bizarre behavior
- Appears depressed
- Is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs
Reporting Workplace Violence
It is crucial that you report any violence (verbal or physical) to your supervisor and security. Don't ignore it. If the perpetrator actually commits the violence he or she threatened, the consequences can be devastating. The university has an anti-violence policy, and you don’t need to fear any repercussions from reporting violent behavior.
Conflict Resolution—Dealing With Angry Student or Guest
It is important to know how to communicate and resolve a hostile or potentially violent situation before it escalates.
- Deal with someone's anger and frustration the first time it occurs to prevent any further escalation of the situation and further confrontations with other personnel.
- The process of resolving the problem can only begin when hostility is defused. Conflict communication skills are used to help defuse hostility.
- Do not counsel someone behind closed doors if they have already become hostile, unless you feel confident that the situation can be defused behind closed doors.
- Make sure your coworkers are aware of the situation.
- If caught alone in a potentially dangerous situation, excuse yourself by whatever means possible.
Basic Conflict Communication Skills
- Don’t take it personally. Generally, a hostile person is not angry with you personally. Take a deep breath and focus on the situation, not yourself.
- Let the hostile person vent their feelings.
- Listen. Let them blow off steam. Make sure they know you are listening. A person is usually angry and upset because they feel no one is listening or taking them seriously.
- Maintain eye contact. Stay focused and be attentive to the person and situation.
- Use the person's name. Show they are important and worthy of your respect.
- Take notes. Show you are serious and want to get all of what they are saying. It is important not to have to ask an already angry person to repeat themselves.
- Ask questions. Get all of the details.
- Take responsibility. Don't pass the buck and don’t ever say, "It’s not my job."
- Do your best to solve the problem. The person may already have been shifted around from person to person or department to department.
- Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
- Confirm the details. Show you care.
What Behavior Crosses the Line?
- Any act of violence where an individual expresses anger by hitting, pushing, or otherwise physically assaulting any member or guest of the university.
- Any verbal threat of harm that is intended to intimidate or threaten the safety of an individual, whether the threat is made in person, through another employee or student, over the phone, in the mail, or through e-mail.
- Unusual, bizarre, or menacing behavior intensely focused on a grudge, grievance, or romantic interest in another employee, suggesting that the employee is losing control.
- Acts, words, and gestures adversely affecting the safety and security of another individual (includes stalking behaviors and hate speech).
- Bringing a gun, a dangerous weapon, or exploding device to campus.
What To Do if Someone Crosses the Line
Do not attempt to handle the situation on your own. If you cannot call security and have the opportunity to calm the person down, utilize the basic conflict communication skills above and concentrate on:
- Remaining calm. To the extent that you can, try to continue to communicate with the individual calmly and confidently.
- Be polite.
- Show respect.
- Do not physically attempt to get the person to leave. Do not touch the person.
- If violent behavior is occurring, escape, hide if not already seen, or cover up if injury is likely.
- Make every possible effort to get others out of the immediate area.
- Never attempt to disarm the person in question.
- Don’t argue, threaten them, or block their exit.