Ignoring the Warning Signs of Violence

Written by Robert D. Sollars

We ignore the warning signs of workplace/school violence (WPV/SV), just like we ignore the warning light on the dashboard. In turn, that leads directly to us being responsible for being stuck in an Arizona summer at the side of the road or the turmoil & pandemonium when an incident happens. Worse, there is no excuse for the signs not to be noticed & reported.

Limitless rationalizations are used by everyone that prevent the reporting of co-workers, fellow students, friends, & loved ones who may be on the edge of committing violence. The ultimate responsibility falls to the organization, business, or school, who needs to know if an employee begins acting differently. Whether it is after a serious incident in their personal life or where they work doesn’t matter…both will impact the organization, usually to a degree that literally can’t be measured until after the event has occurred.

Unfortunately, the organization will rarely make that determination, unless someone trusts them enough to report it. In most circumstances, because someone is beginning to loosen up after a harsh stretch for them or their family could be a reason to worry.

This is one thing I’ve nagged & harped on for decades…there are always warning signs before someone perpetrates an incident of violence. Whether they are subtle, which sometimes are nearly invisible, or not they are there. Unfortunately, there is always an excuse for why the person and signs weren’t reported.

The incidents that I record over the year usually give me as much information as I need for reference points to deliver a presentation. News reports give me several signs of the perpetrator even if they don’t realize it. If I can gather that information from media reports how can anyone around a troubled individual miss those signs?

The answers are relatively simple if you look at it as a simple issue and not convoluted or complicated. It is probably too simple to be accepted by most people, including law enforcement:

It is our choice to either act upon or ignore those signs

Listed here are some of those rationalizations that you may see or tell yourself about someone you know or someone a loved one knows. Unfortunately, ignoring them could lead to injury, psychological trauma, or death. The pronoun he is written although it can easily be attributed to women, as well as teenagers:

  • He was just going through a tough time
  • He’ll come out of it
  • He’s not that kind of person
  • He would never do something like that, he’s as gentle as a caterpillar
  • He’s not capable of doing that
  • He’s got problems, who doesn’t??
  • I don’t want to get him in trouble
  • I don’t want to get involved
  • It’s not my problem
  • Why should I care what happens to him? I don’t like him
  • I hate this place, why should I warn them?
  • This company needs a wake-up call anyway
  • They won’t listen to me

Should I continue with these idiotic answers for not reporting someone? We all know and have heard a myriad of these in our lives and careers. Ah, but individuals are not the only ones at fault here either. It all comes down to the most dangerous attitude a business can have. CHH.

The Can’t Happen Here attitude is one that will cause more financial loss and distress amongst managers and the C-suite than any other. Those three words say it all…total denial of the potential problem.

Employer justifications:

  • I don’t have time to talk to them all the time; I’ve got others to coach/motivate/work with
  • That kind of stuff Can’t Happen Here. We pay & treat them well
  • We can’t worry about that. Let other company’s come up with answers first before we do anything
  • I’m not going to coddle them
  • I’ll get into trouble for profiling them as a trouble-maker
  • I’ll get into trouble for being a bully & picking on them
  • I’ll tell HR and let them handle it
  • They’re a good Joe, they’ll work it out themselves
  • If we discipline/suspend/terminate, it’ll slow down…
  • We don’t have time for that crap Lethem work it out themselves

Any of those sound familiar? In my nearly 40 years in the security field, I’ve heard every single one of them. Sometimes it worked out. Other times the employee, even a valued one, exploded because of a personal issue that was dogging them. And had been for days, weeks, months, and in several cases years. The company finally took action…after an incident. Fortunately, none ended with a serious injury or fatality.

You may think that these justifications/excuses are a prime example of a bad company. You may think that all good managers would see the signs and not allow the attitudes that foster violence. But many times, the signs are so subtle…as to overlook such glare.

Then again, you can simply make an excuse and justify your inaction for it and ignore it. Will it bite you in the butt like a rabid dog? More than likely yes. And then you’ll be in deep financial trouble, either from bad publicity, financial expenditures, or the lawsuit forcing you out of business, or possibly all of those and more.

“Excuses stop us from improving our self and from doing what needs to be done. They only lead to failure, not success”

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