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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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Personal Conduct to Minimize Violence

Follow these suggestions in your daily interactions with people to de-escalate potentially violent situations. If at any time a person's behavior starts to escalate beyond your comfort zone, disengage.

  • Project calmness, move and speak slowly, quietly and confidently.
  • Be an empathetic listener: Encourage the person to talk and listen patiently.
  • Focus your attention on the other person to let them know you are interested in what they have to say.
  • Maintain a relaxed yet attentive posture and position yourself at a right angle rather than directly in front of the other person.
  • Acknowledge the person's feelings. Indicate that you can see he/she is upset.
  • Ask for small, specific favors such as asking the person to move to a quieter area.
  • Establish ground rules if unreasonable behavior persists. Calmly describe the consequences of any violent behavior.
  • Use delaying tactics which will give the person time to calm down. For example, offer a drink of water (in a disposable cup).
  • Be reassuring and point out choices. Break big problems into smaller, more manageable problems.
  • Accept criticism in a positive way. When a complaint might be true, use statements like "You are probably right" or "It was my fault." If the criticism seems unwarranted, ask clarifying questions.
  • Ask for his/her recommendations. Repeat back to him/her what you feel he/she is requesting of you.
  • Arrange yourself so that a visitor cannot block your access to an exit.
  • Use styles of communication which generate hostility such as apathy, brush off, coldness, condescension, robotism, going strictly by the rules or giving the run-around.
  • Reject all of a client's demands from the start.
  • Pose in challenging stances such as standing directly opposite someone, hands on hips or crossing your arms.
  • Avoid any physical Contact, finger pointing or long periods of fixed eye Contact.
  • Make sudden movements which can be seen as threatening. Notice the tone, volume and rate of your speech.
  • Challenge, threaten, or dare the individual. Never belittle the person or make him/her feel foolish.
  • Criticize or act impatiently toward the agitated individual.
  • Attempt to bargain with a threatening individual.
  • Try to make the situation seem less serious than it is.
  • Make false statements or promises you cannot keep.
  • Try to impart a lot of technical or complicated information when emotions are high.
  • Take sides or agree with distortions.
  • Invade the individual's personal space. Make sure there is a space of three feet to six feet between you and the person.

*From Combating Workplace Violence: Guidelines for Employers and Law Enforcement. International Association of Chiefs of Police. 1996. Note: OSHAcademy does not recommend a specific response to any situation or in any way guarantees the effectiveness of a particular response.