The Sounds of Violence

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

My thanks this month to The Executive Committee (TEC) resource experts Dana Browka and Tom Parker, who provide us with critical insight about workplace violence.

First, let’s identify some specific behaviors that telegraph the potential for violence:

  • Constantly finding fault with others.
  • Mentioning the use of violence or revenge, casually, to others.
  • Making oral or written threats.
  • Taking out anger on inanimate objects, such as kicking a door, breaking a phone or throwing things.
  • Frequently sparing with a boss or subordinate.
  • Discussing "theoretical" irrational solutions to otherwise rational interpersonal/relationship problems.
  • Showing obvious irritation when interacting with the opposite sex.

How should a manager respond to these not-so-subtle instances of non-acceptable, latent, anti-social veiled threats? Our experts say the threatening individual should be confronted head-on, before his or her behavior escalates into a dangerous, unmanageable situation. But who are these people who fall into the category of being potentially harmful threats to other employees? Parker says they fall into six categories:

  • Former disgruntled co-workers.
  • Disgruntled current employees.
  • Current or past customers.
  • Virtual strangers in the middle of committing a crime.
  • Spouses or lovers whose domestic issues spill into the workplace.
  • A stalker who is infatuated with an employee.

Parker, a former FBI chief, gets more specific when he spells out the 10 characteristic traits of potentially violent employees:

  1. They tend to be older, over age 35.
  2. They are often white males.
  3. They can be either professional or unskilled workers.
  4. They are noticeably unhappy at work.
  5. They are frequently late or absent.
  6. They are likely to show a recent decline in performance.
  7. They refuse to take criticism for poor job performance.
  8. They openly blame others for their own shortcomings.
  9. They are prone to commit  minor acts of rebellion against authority figures.
  10. They make public threatening comments.

There are some social indicators as well:

  • Other employees view them as "loners."
  • They don’t have a visible social support system.
  • Besides work, they have few outside interests.
  • They have a history of failed relationships.
  • Their self-esteem is noticeably negative.

And on the personal side:

  • They are distrustful of others.
  • They have major unpredictable mood changes.
  • They are substance abusers.
  • If there is violence, they are drawn to it.
  • They are obsessed with weaponry.
  • They are likely to parrot military terminology.
  • Their personal hygiene is likely to be offensive to others.

Now, let’s face it. Most of us are not equipped, as a psychologist would be, to scrutinize, document and constantly assess if an employee is on the verge of becoming violent.

But there are some common sense steps we can take to deal with a potentially violent event before it unfolds. And it begins with supervision.

Supervisors must have the communication skills needed to anticipate problems before they become uncontrollable. These tools include the ability to not just see that the work is being done, but how it’s being done.

Second, the ability to listen to the sounds of the workplace for disturbances that don’t seem right.

And third, the ability to counsel. Not as a therapist would, but as any person would if they are trying to help a fellow employee in need. Obviously, if your company is blessed with competent HR people, this is rightfully in their domain. The first step, however, should always begin with the supervisor.

Some companies have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with an employee who simply snapped and went from the pre-violent to the clearly violent stage, preempting  any ability to rationally deal with their violent outbreak.

These infrequent occurrences nevertheless call for a preplanned response. Here are some things to consider:

  • Have a crisis response team in place.
  • Have a crisis response checklist available and make sure that the team knows how to implement it if needed.
  • Have someone on the team appointed to make the 911 contact and explain the situation.
  • Isolate the employee as quickly as possible from others.
  • Any negotiation with the employee should be done by a trained professional.
  • Evacuate the workplace until the employee is successfully subdued. If this isn’t possible, then have "lock-out" areas where employees can safely gather behind locked doors.

I realize this is an unpleasant subject because it speaks to the dark side of human issues in the workplace. But the reality is that when it comes to human behavior, whether in the workplace or anywhere else for that matter, we never know when the unexpected will occur.

It just makes good sense to be prepared. Until next month, I hope your workplace never has to confront violence of any kind.

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