Aggression in the Workplace, Part I

This week, we will be looking at the issue of violent aggression in the work place

Recent studies released by the FBI profilers in Quantico Virginia have described those most likely to become violent in the work situation as male, white, between the ages of 25 – 53,  live alone, are loners, maintain a collection of guns or knives and talk about weapons quite a bit.

The origin of their hostility comes from two main sources and three secondary sources:

●The person feels under attack and in great danger;

●The person is experiencing the frustration of unmet, maybe even unspoken, expectations;

●The person is on physic modifiers such as drugs or alcohol;

●The person believes he has been taken advantage of one too many times;

●The person is under extreme pressure, feels cornered and sees no possible way out of his predicament.

In these cases, a person’s hostility actually has nothing at all to do with you. You are just the nearest person in the room so you get the brunt of the attack. Your best protection is your own visceral intelligence. In other words, listen to your gut. In addition, read the other person’s body language and non-verbal messages which will signal you that an attack is imminent.  Be aware that psychic modifiers such as alcohol or drugs may be playing a part.  Notice unsteady gait, slurred speech and dilated pupils.

In most instances when violent conflict occurs in the workplace, it occurs in front of an audience. For some reason, this out-of-control person requires spectators to witness their frenzied outburst. Rarely does this type of behavior happen one-on-one in private.

Once you see that trouble is coming, get yourself ready for the ordeal. First of all slow down your physical movements and your mental traffic. Concentrate on formulating a safety or escape plan. How close is the door?  Is there a desk or barrier between you and this person?  Can you dive under the desk if necessary?  Tell yourself to be ready for anything. Finally remember that you must respect this person’s reality. Your goal in this situation must be to:

●Protect yourself from harm;

●Prevent the situation from escalating;

●Attempt to diffuse it.

The most important thing you can do is maintain a non-threatening body posture. Above all, do not look scared or intimidated as that will encourage more hostility from the adversary.  Do not back up or turn away from him or her. Stand up straight, arms at your sides, palms open.

Speak in a calm, firm and soothing tone. Avoid making physical contact.  In fact, maintain a sizable physical distance between you and the person. If the area is crowded with people and furniture, suggest continuing the conversation in another, more spacious location. The adversary may be reacting to extreme pressure from some situation. He or she may feel cornered and can see no conceivable way out of their problem. A more specious location may relieve their sense of feeling trapped.

Give the person your full attention by maintaining strong, steady eye contact. Do not allow other people, sounds or noises to distract you. Physically showing the person that you are paying 100% attention to what they are trying to communicate could save your life. It may be that the person feels as if no one has ever listened to their concerns. Do not try to read the adversary’s mind and certainly do not try to interpret their motives. Do not argue or attempt to offer advice. Just listen. This is tricky but you can attempt to diffuse the adversary’s energy by distracting them. For example, you might say, “How about a cup of coffee?” or “Let’s go get a smoke.”

Whatever the adversary says, do not allow yourself to get hooked by their abusive language, hostile shouting, manipulative questions and angry statements. Speak reasonably.  Forget about using logic. Anger is about emotions and feelings so logic cannot possibly help here.  Therefore, do not deny the person their rage or attempt to trivialize their feelings by saying such things as:

●“You shouldn’t get so upset about that.”

●“I understand how you feel.”

●“Why don’t you just take a deep breath and calm down.”

It is critical that you think before you speak in these situations because you want to avoid escalating things. Take plenty of time before you say anything. Use I messages and words of support. For example you might say:

● “No wonder you’re upset. I’d be upset about that too”.

● “Perhaps you’re right”.

● “I understand exactly what you’re saying.”

Look for an opportunity to exit the scene as soon as possible.

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