Workplace Violence: Prevention Strategy and Training

In this Blog I ask John Byrnes, CEO of Aggression Management to draw an important correlation between management commitment in understanding the need to invest in an appropriate prevention strategy and training tactics that deliver results. Such prevention strategy must include quality training for supervisors and employees on recognizing at risk employees and situations.

“It is irrational to believe that employee engagement campaigns can effectively be administered from the bottom up. Yet, workplace violence prevention tends to be a bottom up effort that eventually loses momentum because it lacks senior management commitment.”

True workplace violence prevention takes place when senior management understands the commitment and needed investment in quality training and procedures that give employees skills.

“Workplace Violence Prevention is not the publication of policies that are managed in silos but a collaborative effort that promotes quality prevention strategy and training that helps identifies aggression before it escalates to physical violence.”

For years employers and their management have assumed there was some connection between Nonfatal Acts of violence and violence itself. As the highly respected security professional, Felix Nater, CSC has pointed out in his article, “New OSHA Directive Tackles Workplace Violence Concerns…What Are You Doing About It?”

“The unknown impact of nonfatal, non-violent incidents committed by nonviolent employees are cause for concern among supervisors, managers and human resources professionals who contend with them on a daily basis. Harassment, bullying, sabotage to systems and operations, product contamination, theft of sensitive information, compromise of proprietary information, theft of services, identity theft, work slowdown etc., etc., contribute to diminished productivity and performance and increased stress.” Felix continues with, “Acts of defiance by non-violent people are as disruptive as the more serious “assaultive” conduct that leads to injury and even death. Such behavior gives rise for concern in our workplaces from groups who might resort to non-violent act of retaliation as described above. Do not make the assumptions in dealing with the threat of workplace violence. Defiance is a safe way for this type of offender to exact his or her vengeance without causing physical harm to people and yet get even. Disgruntled employees in particular take out their frustration in very unique ways simply because they have access to workplaces and vulnerable areas. When it comes to justification and rationale, imagination runs the gamut in terms of creative misconduct and reasoning.”

What is the connection between “Acts of defiance by disgruntled employees,” customers and visitors and the threat of violence that these employees, customers and visitors to often exact on our workplaces? We are told by professionals that we must “connect the dots!” But this is too often a question asked in retrospect; this is an after effect accounting, not prevention! If we are to prevent violent and non-violent activities, we must foresee the precursors (get out in front of violence and non-violent acts,) if we actually want to prevent violent or non-violent behavior. Let me show you how!

Twenty-one years ago, we developed our now scientifically validated Aggression Continuum, a progressive scale which chronicles aggressive behavior from its outset/beginnings through to include the most lethal of all aggressors, the perpetrator of murder/suicide. We also discovered two types of aggressive behavior, Primal and Cognitive. Primal is adrenaline-driven aggression and Cognitive is intent-driven aggression. We combined these two types of aggression and created the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua; once done, all of the body language, behavior and communication indicators that have been known since the beginning of human interaction, all became objective and empirical, leading to scientific-validation. The Primal (adrenaline-driven) Aggression Continuum represents an individual “losing control” due to the effects of adrenaline. What about conscious deliberate aggression, it doesn’t fit in the Primal Aggression Continuum? This is why we developed the Cognitive (intent-driven) Aggression Continuum.

Can we actually predict who is escalating toward violence, and if so, how? Predicated upon the acclaimed and seminal Safe School Initiative Study, a collaborative effort conducted by US Secret Service, the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Justice; which states, “An inquiry should focus … on the student’s behaviors and communication to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.”

“The ultimate question to answer …. is whether a student is on a path to a violent attack …” Finally, on December 16, 2013, this is further confirmed by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center’s Chief, Andre Simmons, who states their ability to prevent violence is predicated on identifying a person who is “on a pathway to violence.”

What we discovered 21 years ago, the FBI is now affirming. We prefer the phrase “emerging aggression” over identifying someone “on the path to violence” because the latter only identifies someone when you can reliably see the potential of violence, whereas, “emerging aggression” identifies someone at the very outset/beginnings of “aggressive behavior.” This gives us the ability to prevent lower levels (stages) of aggression, like “bullying,” “sabotage,” “conflict” and “discrimination.” It also offers us a better method of truly getting out in front of violence well before the aggressors’ intentions become violence. Not only can we identify someone on the path to violence but to Felix Nater’s point, we can identify “aggressive behavior” well before most even realize that behavior is “aggressive.”

Let me offer an example of what is “aggressive behavior” but too often is not seen as such! There are Nine Stages of Cognitive Aggression, at Fourth Stage, an aggressor is not yet prepared to go face-to-face with their victim, they work behind the scenes to undermine the relationship the victim has with their own community (those people the victim likes, loves and respects and with whom they wish to be liked, loved and respected in return).

“We observe what we call, “Planting the seed of distrust;” this is a behavior that permeates all organizations.”

This aggressor turns to the victim’s community and says, “I don’t know about Jane anymore, I just don’t know if I can trust her anymore!” This insidious seed (malicious intent) will grow like weeds in a garden; because partial truth can be far more detrimental than complete truth! This aggressive behavior also undermines “trust,” a key ingredient in Teamwork, Leadership and Loyalty. The revelations made by Felix are emphasized here. Lower levels of aggressive behavior are not only reflective of the potential of violence to come, but also undermine productivity and profitability. Employers who actively identify emerging aggression, will not only make their workplaces reliably “as safe as possible,” the highest form of Evidence-based Best Practices, but will enhance productivity, profitability, teamwork, leadership and loyalty.

“After 21 years of implementation, we have come to realize that as more employees understand that they are being overtly or covertly aggressive, they will typically move away from their aggressive behavior.”

We have seen employee cultures become far more productive as employees learn how to identify, engage and prevent, not only violence but aggressive behavior that precede violence.

As Felix Nater points out in his article, if you believe you have a Workplace Violence “Prevention” program, think again. You must start identifying aggressive behavior (Harassment, bullying, sabotage and, yes, even planting the seed of distrust) prior to violence and non-violent behavior, so as to prevent them. The only way to achieve reliable Workplace Violence “Prevention,” as well as harassment, bullying and sabotage behavior is to implement our scientifically validated Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS)!

If you would like to know more about CAPS, go to http://www.aggressionmanagement.com/CAPSMovie.html.

A version of this was first posted on Naterassociates.com.

photo credit: Don’t hit me again …. via photopin (license)

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