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is there a monster under every Desk?

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE can happen at any time, for any reason, by anyone. If this is your thinking, or the training message you have received, I’ve got some good news. It’s simply not reality. There isn’t a boogey man in every closet, a monster under every bed. Violence, by and large, (especially in a workplace) isn’t a blindly random act committed at completely arbitrary times on whomever, however with no identifiable reason at all. Can something totally random occur…sure….but is this the overall reality of workplace violence? No, not even close. We often sum up acts of aggression or violence as unpredictable and random, more because we aren’t sure what we are looking for to curb its ugly presence.


If it were true that agitation, resistance, aggression, violence were purely random acts that could, beyond all control of yours, invade your life at any second…well, the world would be a very stressful place to live and going to work would definitely not be fun. Conversely, if we don’t seek to understand the ‘how, why & when,’ we could carry out our days largely worry free but be placing ourselves at risk without ever knowing it.


Let’s simply things……for violence to occur the following must exist:


Interest and OR Opportunity.


Once we know this, it would only make sense then to manage our day-to-day interactions and encounters with others in a manner designed to a) not provide any one the interest or opportunity in the first place or b) recognize situations where interest is growing, or opportunity is being provided and have the awareness and put in the effort to remove either or.

The first stage requires effective situation management, the second may require more enhanced skills of de-escalation, or enhanced observation/awareness perhaps accompanied by measured escape or evade strategies.


Awareness is the most critical element to effective situation management and personal safety. It’s not simply enough to default to our parents age old one liner, “pay attention.” We need to truly know what it is we need to pay attention to. Awareness then, requires our understanding of our own instincts and behaviours (what makes us tick, and why), the ability to recognize the little cues and signs we see in others, the ability to synthesize this information within the context of the situation, and the environment we are in, all the while, thinking and communicating clearly and effectively. In other words, the ability to respond in the most appropriate manner. Of course, once we have the awareness (the information) we must have the desire to do something healthy, safe, and effective with the knowledge. If you are aware of escalating conflict, but just don’t care….don’t be surprised by negative outcomes.


So now we are aware that violence requires interest and opportunity or simply the opportunity, we can start to take the steps required to ensure we don’t surrender them. Our greatest allies in this effort are TIME. SPACE. DISTANCE. Time to think, assess, listen, empathize, asks questions, clarify, paraphrase, summarize. Never force yourself (or let others) put you in the pressure cooker where you are squeezed to make immediate and reactionary decisions. Time allows processing…thinking. Time helps you generate a RESPONSE instead of a REACTION. Space can speak to both the physical requirement to generate both figurative and literal separation from the ‘heat of the moment’ allowing us to slow down our body’s natural responses to stressful situations. Space also permits the proverbial ‘breathing room’ for others in a tense exchange.


Distance can ultimately support physical safety outcomes by having the awareness to completely disengage from an unsafe situation. However, we can also think about distance in terms of maintaining professional distance from pre-determined outcomes or distance from our own emotional connection to the event. Distance from our natural desires to prioritize OUR wants, needs, and expectations over those we serve. This can also help reduce the risk of taking encounters personally….the enemy to our capacity to remain fair, impartial, empathetic, helpful, solution focused, effective and…… ultimately….safe.


Knowing when to pay attention is important, knowing what to pay attention to is essential!




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