Communicating to Defuse Potentially
- Project calmness: move and speak slowly, quietly,
- Be respectful
- Be an empathetic listener, encourage the person
to talk and listen carefully and patiently (this can be hard when
a person is ranting). Focus your attention on the person
- Sit close to the door, don't get right in front
of the person, maintain a relaxed posture
- Acknowledge the person's feelings. Indicate that
you see the person is upset. You can validate the feeling without
condoning negative acts. (I understand you feel______, and it's not
ok to _______)
- Form some bond/connection
- Use delaying tactics to help person calm down.
(Offer a drink of water in a paper cup)
- Be reassuring and point out choices. Break problems
into smaller, more manageable pieces
- Call Security or local police if you feel threatened
- Be cold, apathetic, condescending robotic (going
strictly by the rules without human factor)
- Reject all of the person's demands from the start
- Pose in challenging stances (hands on hips, crossing
arms). Try to avoid physical contact, finger-pointing, staring, invade
- Make sudden movements that could be seen as threatening,
remember to move and speak slowly
- Challenge, threaten, belittle or dare individual
- Criticize or act impatiently toward agitated
- Attempt to bargain with a threatening individual
- Make false statements or promises you can't keep
- Downplay the seriousness of the situation
- Try to focus on technical or complicated information
when emotions are high
- Take sides or agree with distortions
A Checklist: Early Warning Signals of a Potential
For Violence in the Workplace
Experts caution that there is no definite profile
from which an employer can determine whether an individual will be
more prone to violence in the workplace than another. However, the
same experts agree, and our experience confirms, that there are a
number of signs often exhibited by employees in a pattern of escalation
leading to violence in the workplace. Having one or even several of
these signs does not mean that the employee will be violent but should
be used to heighten concern. Conditions in the workplace can also
suggest an increased potential for violence. The most commonly mentioned
warning signals are the following:
- Any history of violent behavior before or after
employment with the current employer.
- An extreme interest in or obsession with weapons,
e.g., paramilitary training, weapons collections (often including
semiautomatic weapons), and compulsive reading and collecting of gun
magazines. If this behavior starts spontaneously or is out of character
for the employee, it should be considered.
- Excessive discussion of weapons at work, carrying
a concealed weapon or flashing a weapon to test reactions.
- Making either direct or veiled verbal threats
of harm (i.e., predicting that bad things are going to happen to a
co-employee or supervisor).
- Intimidating others or instilling fear in co-employees
or supervisors. (This can be physical or verbal intimidation.) Harassing
phone calls and stalking are obvious examples.
- Having an obsessive involvement with the job
often with no apparent outside interests. (Usually outside relationships
fail or are strained.) The workplace becomes the person's sole source
of identity. (Please be advised that this characteristic may apply
to many of your best employees, including those who would never commit
a violent act.)
- Being a loner with little involvement with co-employees,
with the possible exception of a romantic interest in a co-employee.
This interest will often be so intense that the co-employee will feel
threatened and may report the unwanted attention under a sexual harassment
- Being paranoid, panicking easily and often perceiving
that the whole world is against the employee.
- Not taking criticism well, holding a grudge,
especially against a supervisor, and often verbalizing a hope for
something to happen to the person against whom the employee has the
grudge. A classic example is to hold a grudge over being denied a
promotion, transfer, etc.
- Expressing extreme desperation over recent family,
financial, or personal problems. Giving up statements, threats to
- Fascination with other recent incidents of workplace
violence and approval of the use of violence under similar circumstances.
- An escalating propensity to push the limits of
normal conduct, with a disregard for the safety of co-employees.
- Failure to take consistent disciplinary measures
against threats of violence or minor incidents of violence (e.g.,
pushing or touching which may or may not be associated with a sexual
- Workplace events generating great stress such
as layoffs (downsizing), terminations, labor disputes, transfers.
- Workplace locations and activities which expose
employees to the threat of violent behavior from non-employees entering
The Santa Barbara Community College District has
the following administrative guidelines for dealing with workplace violence.
They serve as a helpful guide for all faculty.
Workplace homicide is the third leading cause of death on the job
according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
"An estimated 1,400 people are murdered at work in the United
States annually... (and) as many as 7,000 fatal work-related injuries
occur each year as well" according to a National Traumatic Occupational
Fatality Study. These numbers do not account for a myriad of other
violent threats to security experienced by many employers. Whether
these happen on or off the work site, there is no question that the
cost to an employer, in human and business terms, can be substantial.
An Employer who learns that a current or former
employee has threatened violence against managers, supervisors or
other employees may have to take certain preventative steps under
the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (Fed-OSHA) and its
state counterpart (Cal-OSHA). These acts generally require employers
to provide their employees with a safe and healthful place of employment.
While the law in this area is still unclear, it appears that employers
who learn of threats of violence against their employees may be required
under OSHA to take action to protect employees in the event that the
threat is later acted upon. The best way to respond under the Act
would be to address workplace security and provide training concerning
violent situations pursuant to the employer's safety program; that
is the objective of these guidelines.
Procedure for Reporting and Investigating Threats
Supervisors will immediately investigate any
reported threat of violence to their employees in consultation with
the Personnel and Security departments. The supervisor will advise
the alleged victim of the right to file a police report which could
result in a criminal complaint being issued.
The supervisor should assure the employee that
a thorough and prompt investigation will occur, and should ask whether
he/she has any suggestions for minimizing the risk of a violent
The supervisor conducting an investigation should
interview the reporting party and obtain information regarding the
threat which would include: (a) who made the threat; (b) against
whom was the threat made; (c) the specific language of the threat;
(d) any physical conduct by the threatening party which would tend
to substantiate that the individual intends to follow through on
the threat; (e) the names of any other witnesses to the threat or
violent conduct; (f) the time and place where the threat or violent
conduct occurred; (g) threats or violent conduct by the alleged
perpetrator before this incident; and (h) any other pertinent information.
The supervisor in consultation with the personnel
and security departments should decide how to approach the accused
individual. Fairness and due process will require that the perpetrator's
side of the story be told. Where the allegation of a threat of
violence or violent conduct is believed to be genuine, the interview
with the alleged perpetrator could occur in the presence of district
security personnel or, under unusual circumstances, in the presence
of local police officers. Depending on the circumstances of the
allegations and the status of the evidence, it may be appropriate
to suspend the alleged employee perpetrator pending conclusion
of the investigation. The Personnel Director shall be consulted
before this is done.
Upon conclusion of the investigation, the supervisor
will review the case with the appropriate Vice President, Security
Director and Personnel Director and will make an appropriate recommendation
(finding of no threat, recommended disciplinary or other action)
to the Superintendent/President.
The supervisor should report back to the complaining
party as to any planned action.
Defamation Claims: Supervisors
are asked to proceed with the investigation in a cautious manner,
working with the Personnel Department for legal assistance due to
possible claims of defamation by the accused. Defamation occurs
when a statement which is communicated to another individual is
false, unprivileged, and the cause of injury. For this reason, the
supervisor should work closely with the Personnel Department for
Suggested Emergency Response Procedures
following are suggested steps that the supervisor/administrator
should take when dealing with an emergency violent situation:
- Call security and
- If incident involves
a gun, lock down classrooms and/or office if necessary and order
students to lie flat on floor.
- Secure the immediate
- Provide first aid.
- Notice and remember
participants and witnesses.
- Direct participants
and witnesses to administrative office.
- Secure written statements
that are signed and dated from those individuals:
a. Statements should contain detailed facts, not conclusionary
b. Statements should describe participants' actions, so witnesses
should be asked to describe the event act-by-act.
- Advise victims of
right to file police report which could result in a criminal complaint
- Notify spouses or
families of victims and participants, Superintendent/President
and others with a need to know, i.e. Personnel Dept., College
Information Officer, College Nurse, Workers' Compensation carrier.
- After the incident,
provide for mental health counseling referral as needed for participants.
- Consider suspension
or expulsion of participants.
- Prepare reports or
other administrative actions.