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Workplace Violence Triggers, Warning Signs and Solutions

March 9, 2012
Another workplace violence tragedy made national headlines March 6 when Shane Schumerth, a Spanish teacher at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville in Florida, fatally shot first the school headmistress, Dale Regan, and then himself. Media reports indicate that Schumerth had been fired earlier in the day. In light of this tragedy, one expert suggested that such violent workplace incidents can be avoided by recognizing common triggers and warning signs.

"Most people who act out violently at work indicate what's going to happen through their words and behavior beforehand," explained. Mike Staver, CEO of The Staver Group and creator of the audio/video series 21 Ways to Defuse Anger and Calm People Down. "And while that may not have been the case in this Jacksonville incident, when people can recognize the warning signs, they can do more to prevent these terrible situations."

The Triggers

While many people believe that violence occurs when people are angry about certain circumstances, in reality, they become angry over what they believe about the circumstances.

According to Staver, at least one of three primary triggers is in place when a person grows angry:

1. The person feels the circumstances are unfair.
2. The person feels the circumstances are out of his or her control.
3. The person feels the circumstances are personal.

"The more intensely the person feels these factors, the worse the violence can get," Staver said. "Naturally, if you see these triggers in a coworker or employee, you should be very concerned."

Warning Signs and Solutions

These triggering factors can manifest themselves in various ways. The angry employee might have a drop in performance level; might make threatening comments to another employee or about the company in general; or, in extreme circumstances, resort to violence, as Schumerth did. Other warning signs can include bullying management or coworkers, substance abuse, frequently discussing marital or other non-professional problems, making idle threats, etc.

"First and foremost, take all warning signs very, very seriously," Staver advised. "Second, and this is just as important, report it right away. Let me repeat that: Report it right away! Far too often coworkers don't report these incidents."

Workers may be reluctant to report such warning signs for various reasons. They might believe that people who make threats don't act on them. They may not want to seem like alarmists. They may not feel confident there is a sufficient incident reporting system in place, or they may even worry they will become a target. According to Staver, however, reporting an incident or warning sign is imperative. And if company leadership does not appear to take the report seriously, then take the concern to the authorities.

"All organizations should make sure that they have workplace violence policies in place, that all employees have a clear understanding of the policies, and that all employees know how to take action and what to expect when they do report an incident," Staver said. "Managers and leaders should also be well trained in how to defuse anger in the workplace and also what kinds of situations are out of their control and demand that law enforcement be involved. There is simply too much at risk to avoid taking these actions."

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