Is that bomb inside your business set to explode?
Voices rise, faces flush, and hands begin to clench. Is this ticking time bomb about to explode? As you know, I hope anyway, workplace violence (WPV) can come from virtually anyone who crosses the threshold of your business. However, the threat of an employee or someone else committing an assault, deadly or not, is a threat that can possibly be avoided.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned in my career that can help to defuse this type of ticking bomb. I’ve worked in retail, industrial, & corporate areas of security, and following my own logic, these have worked well.
Observe the individual for any recent signs of bizarre behavior.
If the individual is an employee, I have to assume that you have followed the warning signs for WPV to know if they are on the edge. However, if they aren’t an employee, then you have several other areas in which they may be having a problem.
An individual in an epileptic or diabetic shock may act very strangely. With diabetics, they can act as if they are drunk becoming disoriented, belligerent, and aggressive. The same can be said for someone who is experiencing a stroke. So be careful before identifying these people as simply drunks or morons.
Don’t overdo eye contact
If the individual is truly angry and not having a medical issue, then you need to avoid direct eye contact. Why, you may ask? When confronted by a real or perceived threat, many animals take direct eye contact as a challenge to their dominance in a situation. Most humans will react the same way if they are indeed angry or have a mental illness. Look indirectly at them by changing your contact slightly over their shoulders or up or down. This allows them to understand, instinctively, that you are listening without directly confronting or challenging them.
That may sound simple, but it’s not at all. If you continue with busy work while talking to them this can be a huge mistake. Give them your full attention and don’t allow yourself to be torn in two directions. If you must do computer entry, then ensure they know it’s about their issue, not something else. Open both ears and let them know that they have your full attention.
This also means that if you get interrupted, for any reason, by any means, apologize. An apology will help to throw water on the fuse that may already be lit and burning. And if the fuse is doused, then it could save lives, namely yours.
Don’t fulfill their expectation of conflict
Basically, this means don’t argue with them. Acknowledge and validate their anger. Again, listen and pick up on other clues. Don’t escalate the situation by responding to taunts to your character or heritage. Taunts such as ‘Your mother was a female dog in heat and your dad had to put a bag on her face before donating sperm. You have to do your best to ignore the jibes.
Empathize with the person
With the economy still recovering, there are probably lots of other things weighing on their minds. Something like the following, in a genuine tone of empathy will go a long way – ‘I can understand how that would have you mad, it probably would have me mad (not upset but mad) too. What can I do to help?’
Don’t follow company policy
Not follow policy? What I mean is simply don’t stand there and spout the company handbook. All this is going to do is make them angrier. Let me tell you a story about working as a shift manager at Hardee’s and the customer who could have caused a ton of trouble.
This new employee was working the register, he informed a very large customer that we were serving breakfast and he couldn’t have a ham & cheese (he was big enough to qualify to be 4 people). When he became argumentative and I asked him to leave, the GM instructed me to give him what he wanted ‘cause it wasn’t that big a deal. The man was a regular who ordered the same thing every day. (There is also a lesson to be learned in customer service)
The corporate policy was that no lunch item was to be served until 10:30AM. He ordered his ham and cheese at 9”30AM. Since it was simple and didn’t require a big change, we changed the menu and let him order lunch.
Don’t entertain an audience
If the situation is beginning to be heard all over the building and making others uncomfortable, then get the person away from view, if not earshot. Try to get them to a more private setting, such as an office, or employee break room. But wherever you take them, just make it private.
There are several reasons for this as well. You can make them feel like they are special and are removing the person from a situation where they might be compelled to ‘play up’ to another person or crowd to save face. You don’t want other people to join in on the assault and become a disruptive mob. And lastly, while it seems like they are in control, you are actually steering the incident away from confrontation and the bullying of the employee.
(the 2nd part of this post will appear next week)
Robert D. Sollars is a recognized expert on security issues, specifically workplace violence. He’s spent 32 years in the security field. Contact him at 480-251-5197 or Visit his Facebook page, One is too Many. Here you will read about other items related to security & WPV issues. Or be a twitter follower at @robertsollars2.