Do you have a bomb ready to explode in your business?
Written by Robert D. Sollars
Workplace & School violence (WPV/SV) can come from virtually anyone who crosses the threshold of your organization. However, the threat of someone committing an assault is a threat that can possibly be avoided. Not that you can eliminate all risk, assaults, from employees, customers, students, or otherwise but it can’t hurt to at least try, now can it? 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, student, or visitor ready to explode beforehand. However, if they are not an employee or student, then you have several other areas that they may be having an issue that you have to be aware of that may be clouding their critical thinking and logic processes.
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 animals 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.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t watch their eyes for bursts of anger or that they are on the way to doing something that will hurt you or others. While you’re not making direct eye contact, you need to still look at their eyes on occasion to catch those flashes of distress.
- Listen – 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.
This could also be called active listening, a buzzword in the corporate for a while. Most of us did it long before it became an issue to actually teach such things, but be aware of it.
- 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 violence, against you and the organization.
- Empathize – The economy is still recovering, depending on your political persuasion. 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, because of those other issues, which can be innumerable (refer to the warning signs for these).
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. Things 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 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 customer service platitudes usually only make them angrier.
- Don’t follow company policy – Yes, I said it and I am fully cognizant of my surroundings and beliefs. What this means is simple, DON’T spout the platitudes of the company handbook or follow the policies so closely you come across as a handbook yourself. All this is going to do is make them more pissed off and want to take action, of some kind, 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 out of earshot of anyone else. Try to get them to a more private setting, such as an office, or employee breakroom. 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 volatile 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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Copyright 2023 Robert D. Sollars