Blanchard & Walker Weekly

Topic of the Week  Staying Safe: Spotting Violence at Work

  • Pay attention.
  • Report it.
  • Escape routes and safe spots.
  • Stay calm and listen.

According to security services firm Allied Burton, violence at work has been on the increase since the start of the recession in 2008. How can we all learn to be safer at work? I found a key part of the answer in a Peruvian festival. In Chumbivilcas the townspeople with grudges from the previous year seek to clear the air so they can start the year fresh through everything from arguments to fist fights. I know it sounds like it was inspired by Seinfeld's Festivus (Remember the part about the airing of grievances?), but it's actually drawn from an ancient Incan tradition.

Clearing the air doesn't only work in Peru, it can also create a safer workplace for you. Okay, we need to leave fist fights to the Peruvians, but the idea of bringing everything out into the open is something that would help most workplaces. Especially when it involves looking for early signs of potential trouble. This can serve as an early warning system that can eliminate violence before it occurs. I've listed four steps that each of us can take to make our workplace safer.

Pay attention. There is so much stress at work today that it's easy to just blow off the warning signs of potential problems. Don't. Keep an eye out for the early warning signs: disruptive, aggressive, hostile or abusive behaviors in coworkers, vendors or customers.

Report it. Two-thirds of people who observed or experienced violence at work reported it. But one-third didn't. The only way we can stop this stuff is to report it. Either 911 or company security. But I'm not only talking about violent occurrences. Studies show that about 20% of us have observed acting out, disruptive or rowdy behavior at work. We need to report this behavior also so we can stop violence before it happens.

Escape routes and safe spots. Imagine what you'd do if something happened at your worksite. How could you get out of the building? What if that option was blocked, what would your backup plan be? Are there safe spots in the building where you could hide? If you wait until something happens, you'll have to struggle to retain your focus while your heart is beating through your chest wall. But if you think about this before a crisis, you'll be able to review all your options clearly and strategically.

Stay calm and listen. Say that you're confronted with a very agitated person. The key to diffusing a potentially violent situation is remaining calm and listening. Don't try to be a cop or a hostage negotiator, but you should try to keep your cool and listen to what they say to you.

In my research for this article I did come across a fascinating statistic. Although women have a higher likelihood of being personally affected by violence at work, only 21% express concern about it. The percentage for men is more than twice as high at 46%. Follow these tips and everyday will seem like Festivus where you work.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him

Thought of the Week

"We accumulate our opinions at an age when our understanding is at its weakest."

–George C. Lichtenberg

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

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