Workplace violence (WPV) can come from virtually anyone who crosses the threshold of your business. However, the threat of someone committing an assault is a threat that can possibly be avoided. Not that you can eliminate all risk from employees, customers, or otherwise but it can’t hurt to at least try.
The following ideas are a few that I have learned in my career and my logic of not following conventional wisdom…:
- Observe the individual for any signs of bizarre behavior.
If the individual is an employee, I would hope that you would recognize the warning signs of an employee ready to explode beforehand. However, if they are not an employee, then you have several other areas that they may be having an issue that you have to be aware of.
Someone experiencing an epileptic seizure, diabetic shock, or possibly a stroke may act 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 any individual as simply drunks or morons, they may need your help to stay alive.
- 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 with them. When confronted by a perceived threat, many animals, and remember humans are in fact animal’s intelligent maybe but animals nonetheless, take direct eye contact as a challenge to their dominance. Look indirectly at them by changing your contact slightly over their shoulders. You can also look at their forehead or chin, just avoid looking directly into their eyes. This allows them to understand, instinctively, that you are listening without directly challenging them.
It may sound elementary and simple, but it’s not. If you continue with busy work while talking to them… 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 and not something else. Open both ears and let them know that they have your full attention. If you get interrupted, for any reason, apologize. An apology will help to douse the fuse that may already be lit, not to mention saving the lives of yourself and others.
- Don’t meet anger with anger
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 jabs and digs to your character or heritage. You have to do your best to ignore the jibes and darts they are more than prepared to throw your way. They are expecting a confrontation and you must avoid it at all costs. Responding with anger will validate their anger and therefore force them to take action, possibly violent, against you and the business.
The economy is still recovering from the serious collapse. If you can empathize with the individuals you may find that there is a lot more than just the issue they came to you about bothering them. This means that their anger may be more volatile than you initially thought.
In many cases, if you speak to them with a genuine tone of empathy, you will go a long way in settling down their anger. Something like ‘I can understand how that would have you mad, it probably would have me mad (don’t use upset but mad) too. What can I do to help solve/settle this?’
Also, don’t use the platitudes that are so common as to be cliché. I don’t care about what you’ve been taught to say, it doesn’t come across as genuine just more put offish “I can’t be bothered with you get out.” Whether that is the truth or not, it is their perception, and remember perception is reality. Common platitudes usually only make them angrier.
- Don’t follow company policy
What this means is not spouting the platitudes of the company handbook or following the policies so closely you come across as a handbook yourself. All this is going to do is make them angrier, if this is unclear refer to the previous section.
- Don’t entertain
If the situation is beginning to be overheard by a multitude and it’s making others uncomfortable, then get the person away from 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 and become disruptive. 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)
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I May be Blind but my Vision is Crystal Clear