When it comes to workplace violence prevention, prevailing wisdom tells us to speak up if we witness concerning behavior. But that is easier said than done.
It can be tough to step out and share with someone worries over possible workplace violence. All kinds of questions can arise:
• What if I’m wrong?
• What if I make things worse?
• Will others think I’m a ‘tattle-tale’?
But speaking up with kindness and showing genuine care for the wellbeing of coworkers is the best way to prevent violence in our workplaces.
We live in challenging times and the increased stress is resulting in an alarming increase of violence in our society. It’s become more important than ever to build and nurture organizational cultures based on dignity and respect. Only then can we make our workplaces safer and more secure.
Getting Real About Workplace Violence, a prevention and response training program that we provide through Atana, covers the essentials people need to know to recognize and prevent potentially violent situations as well as survive incidents of extreme violence in the workplace. A key aspect of the training leverages the idea of “See Something… Say Something” by identifying "Behaviors of Concern", which are often early warning signs that someone might be on a path to violence. It’s here, at the earliest stages of concern, where employees can make the greatest impact by coming forward and speaking up.
Watch this short clip to see how training can help employees become more attuned to concerning behaviors.
Getting Real About Workplace Violence clip ©Regulus Media.
It’s Easy to “Explain Away” Concerning Behavior—But Don’t...
Even when someone's behavior might seem a bit off, people tend to explain it away. Why? It's because we all understand that everyone has a “bad day” now and then and it doesn’t necessarily mean someone will act out violently. Our tendency as humans is to avoid conflict, which means it’s easy to talk ourselves out of saying something, even when we know we should.
Consider a few examples:
- Behavior of Concern: Hypersensitivity to Criticism—Haven’t we all encountered someone who always seems a little bit “touchy?” You know, someone who just can’t seem to receive even the gentlest, most well-intended, constructive criticism? And don’t we tend to explain behavior like that away by saying things like, “you know Jeremy… he’s just a bit of a hothead…”
But, Hypersensitivity to Criticism can be an indicator that someone is reaching the limit of their personal coping skills in dealing with some sort of stress in their life. This sensitivity could be a signal of a change in a co-worker’s state of mind; one where violence might be a possible outcome.
- Behavior of Concern: Sudden Withdrawal or Other Changes in Demeanor—This Behavior of Concern can often get lost in the "noise" of day-to-day life and busy workplaces. Again, our tendency is often to find a logical reason as to why someone might be stepping back from social interactions, or why they might appear more sullen than normal. But, it’s the change in behavior we want to pay attention to here. Sudden Withdrawal or Other Changes in Demeanor can indicate that someone is moving from being “stressed” to a state of being “dis-stressed.” This can narrow a person’s sense of potential solutions to any problems they may be facing and, sometimes, people in these situations can come to the false conclusion that the only solution to their problem(s) is violence.
- Behavior of Concern: Outward Signs of Disgruntlement with Co-workers, Managers, or Company Leaders—This Behavior of Concern can often be minimized as normal stress coping mechanisms, like employees “blowing off steam;” particularly in the wake of organizational restructuring or changes in job role. But Outward Signs of Disgruntlement with Co-workers, Managers, or Company Leaders can also point to deeper, more systemic issues related to a person’s ability to adapt and respond positively to their work environment. Some individuals with limited coping skills can also become known as “Injustice Collectors.” These people often blame others for their problems, and when their behavior begins to emerge into open and outward expressions of disgruntlement, that can often be an indicator that something more serious is brewing.
As you can see, the above examples help to show that independent behaviors, by themselves, may—or may not—be cause for concern. Interpretation isn’t always easy and is almost never clear-cut. Overall context and circumstances must be considered, which is why trusting your intuition can be a powerful way to determine your next step. If something doesn’t “feel” right, it probably isn’t and you should err on the side of action. And, remember, if our motivation is “kindness and genuine care” for each other, then coming forward with a concern isn’t being a “tattletale.” In fact, your commitment to action could be the difference between someone getting the help they need or not, which just might be the difference between a violent or peaceful outcome. Most times, it’s the little things that matter and the fact is, you CAN make a difference. AWARENESS & RECOGNITION + ACTION = PREVENTION
For Managers, Leadership Responsibilities Require Additional Training
Effective workplace violence prevention training empowers us to override our natural tendencies to avoid conflict and attempt to explain away troubling behavior. It recommends bringing any concerning behavior—anything that makes us uncomfortable or seems out of the ordinary—to the attention of our managers and/or supervisors, HR, or even Security. Because managers are often approached first, the training provides additional instruction especially for them—helping frontline leadership become more critically aware as to whether or not an employee might be on a pathway to violence.
Does that mean managers are expected to become amateur psychologists or FBI profilers? Certainly not. It does mean, however, that managers need a deeper understanding and a greater confidence in recognizing potential signs of trouble at their earliest stages, when intervention methods are most effective. Early intervention provides the greatest flexibility in meeting someone’s needs and optimizes the opportunity for success in defusing an escalating situation.
The more aware and comfortable managers are in recognizing and understanding the potential of workplace violence, the better able they are to create a safe and respectful environment; one in which employees readily adopt an I’ve-got-your-back mindset and feel comfortable coming forward with concerns.
There's no better time to become a champion of safety and respect at your work and in your community—If You See or Sense Something, Say Something.
Getting Real About Workplace Violence
Employee and Manager Courses
This highly effective eLearning enables organizations to teach and track key behaviors in the areas of workplace violence awareness, prevention and response.
James Sporleder has 30 years’ experience in the security industry. With a unique background in specialized captivity survival, James has trained thousands of US military personnel from some of the most elite units in the US Department of Defense. He’s worked in the corporate arena for nearly 20 years, focusing on the development and implementation of specialized training programs and helping more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 prepare for and respond to emerging challenges related to workplace violence, intimate partner violence, and extreme violence such as active shooter.