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How do I Prevent Disagreements From Escalating Into Violent Incidents?

If an individual has a predisposition to aggressiveness and perceives the workplace as a hostile environment, experiencing stress from a disagreement can trigger violent behavior.

Become sensitive to the levels of stress your employees are under, recognize danger signs, and address issues of stress and anxiety before they become dangerous to you and coworkers. Intervene when conflicts arise, and look for win/win solutions. Support a corporate program of zero tolerance for threats.

Further, refer troubled employees to your firm’s employee assistance or counseling program. Some companies have set up threat management committees. If your firm has one, report threats, wherever they come from, to the committee for immediate action.

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To keep a conflict from escalating into violent behavior, you have to spot the conflict. Some will be overt, from an obvious or identifiable cause; others may be covert, from a less obvious or apparently unrelated cause (like conflict among employees due to a perception that their manager’s treatment is discriminatory). Whatever the nature of the conflict, you need to monitor the climate at work to identify the conflict before it gets out of hand.

If you see evidence of some conflict brewing, then you need to investigate the conflict. Take time to find out the real cause of the conflict, who is involved, what the key issue is, and what its actual and potential effects are. See the situation from the other people’s viewpoint instead of making a snap judgment. Look to see if you can handle the conflict or if some third party needs to become involved, or, most important, if one or both parties involved in the conflict are so inflamed that the conflict represents a danger to innocent bystanders. If that is the case, then you need to report the situation immediately to the Human Resources Department.

Danger is most evidenced via threats from one or both parties. The focus of the threats will be determined by the nature of the conflict. Two coworkers may get so riled up that they hurl threats at one another; an angry employee may hurl warnings against you, another supervisor, or the company’s senior management; or an employee may be receiving threats from a spouse or other family member. Such conflicts must be reported immediately not only to the Human Resources Department but also to your organization’s Security Department, if you have one.

If the threat comes from outside the organization, security measures must be taken to prevent access to the organization’s premises. If the company has a no-threat policy, and threats hurled are punishable by termination, then Security needs to be advised that the guilty employee is no longer to be allowed on company premises. If the antagonisms appear intractable, then you may want also to alert the police.

If you look at violent behavior, you can see a cycle. It begins with the occurrence of a stressful event in a person’s life. The stressful situation can involve frustrations, annoyances, power struggles, insults, threats, assaults by others, or job changes, including disciplinary actions and termination. What might be a precipitating event for one person may have little or no impact on another. Awareness of an employee’s past work behavior and any episodes of violence will enable you to assess the risk for violence and take suitable action.