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Prevent Violence in the Workplace: Say Something About Concerning Behavior

September 4, 2019
By Jim Sporleder
September 25th is national “If You See Something, Say Something®” Awareness Day. Designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the occasion is meant to remind all of us how important it is to speak up if we see behavior or activity that strikes us as concerning or suspicious.

While Homeland Security aims its message at the public on a community level, the idea is just as relevant in our workplaces. With the ongoing threat of workplace violence occasionally flaring into life-threatening incidents across the country, it’s important we build and nurture organizational cultures that emphasize personal dignity and respect—that we make it our business to have our co-workers’ backs. Only out of this type of culture can workplace safety and security blossom and grow.

Getting Real About Workplace Violence, a prevention and response training program that we provide through Media Partners, covers the essentials people need to know to prevent, as well as survive, incidents of extreme violence in the workplace. A key aspect of the training leverages the idea of See Something, Say Something by identifying "Behaviors of Concern", that could be early warning signs indicating that someone might be on a path to violence. It’s here, at the earliest stages of concern, where employees can make the greatest impact by coming forward and speaking up.  

Watch this 1-minute clip on the common misconceptions many people have about Workplace Violence:

Getting Real About Workplace Violence clip for PREVIEW ONLY, may not be used for training.


It’s Easy to “Explain Away” Concerning Behavior—But Don’t...

Even when someone's behavior might seem a bit off, people tend to explain it away. Why? It's because we all understand that everyone has a “bad day” now and then and it doesn’t necessarily mean someone will act out violently. Our tendency as humans is to avoid conflict, which means it’s easy to talk ourselves out of saying something, even when we know we should.

Consider a few examples:

  • Behavior of Concern: Hypersensitivity to Criticism
    Haven’t we all encountered someone who always seems a little bit “touchy?” You know, someone who just can’t seem to receive even the gentlest, most well-intended, constructive criticism? And don’t we tend to explain behavior like that away by saying things like, “you know Jeremy… he’s just a bit of a hothead…”

    But, Hypersensitivity to Criticism can be an indicator that someone is reaching the limit of their personal coping skills in dealing with some sort of stress in their life. This could be a signal of a change in a co-worker’s state of mind; one where violence might be a possible outcome.

  • Behavior of Concern: Sudden Withdrawal or Other Changes in Demeanor 

    This Behavior of Concern can often get lost in the "noise" of day-to-day life and busy workplaces. Again, our tendency is often to find a logical reason as to why someone might be stepping back from social interactions, or why they might appear more sullen than normal. But, it’s the change in behavior we want to pay attention to here. Sudden Withdrawal or Other Changes in Demeanor can indicate that someone is moving from being “stressed” to a state of being “dis-stressed.” This can narrow a person’s sense of potential solutions to any problems they may be facing and, sometimes, people in these situations can come to the false conclusion that the only solution to their problem(s) is violence.

  • Behavior of Concern: Outward Signs of Disgruntlement with Co-workers, Managers, or Company Leaders

    This Behavior of Concern can often be minimized as normal stress coping mechanisms, like employees “blowing off steam;” particularly in the wake of organizational restructuring or changes in job role. But Outward Signs of Disgruntlement with Co-workers, Managers, or Company Leaders can also point to deeper, more systemic issues related to a person’s ability to adapt and respond positively to their work environment. Some individuals with limited coping skills can also become known as “Injustice Collectors.” These people often blame others for their problems, and when their behavior begins to emerge into open and outward expressions of disgruntlement, that can often be an indicator that something more serious is brewing.

As you can see, the above examples help to show that independent behaviors, by themselves, may—or may not—be cause for concern. Interpretation isn’t always easy and is almost never clear-cut. Overall context and circumstances must be considered, which is why trusting your intuition can be a powerful way to determine your next step.  If something doesn’t “feel” right, it probably isn’t and you should err on the side of action.  And, remember, if our motivation is making sure “we’ve got each others' backs,” then coming forward with a concern isn’t being a “tattletale.”  In fact, your commitment to action could be the difference between someone getting the help they need or not, which just might be the difference between a violent or peaceful outcome.  Most times, it’s the little things that matter and the fact is, you CAN make a difference.  AWARENESS & RECOGNITION + ACTION =  PREVENTION

For Managers, Leadership Responsibilities Require Additional Training

Getting Real About Workplace Violence empowers us to override our natural tendencies to try and explain away troubling behavior. It recommends bringing any concerning behavior—anything that makes us uncomfortable or seems out of the ordinary—to the attention of our managers and/or supervisors, HR, or even Security. Because managers are often approached first, the training provides additional instruction especially for them—helping them become more critically aware as to whether or not an employee might be on a pathway toward violence. 

Does that mean managers are expected to become amateur psychologists or FBI profilers? Certainly not. It does mean, however, that managers need a deeper understanding and a greater confidence in recognizing potential signs of trouble at their earliest stages, when intervention methods are most effective. Early intervention provides the greatest flexibility in meeting someone’s needs and optimizes the opportunity for success in defusing an escalating situation.

The more aware and comfortable managers are in recognizing and understanding the potential of workplace violence, the better able they are to create a safe and respectful environment; one in which employees readily adopt the I’ve-got-your-back mindset and feel comfortable coming forward with concerns.

To explore more behaviors that might be cause for concern in the workplace, view a free full-length preview of Getting Real About Workplace Violence.

And start now...there's no reason to wait for September 25th to become a champion of safety and respect at your work and in your community—If You See Something, Say Something®


Jim Sporleder

Jim Sporleder has more than 25 years experience in the security industry. He and the team at Regulus Media produced the top-selling Getting Real About Workplace Violence program. They've also created customized WPV Prevention Training solutions for many Fortune 1000 organizations.


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