Potential violence in the workplace comes in various forms. Here is some guidance from the National Conference of State Legislatures on how elected officials can prepare.
It’s a scene not unfamiliar to many legislators and legislative staff. An angry constituent walks through the door upset with his tax bill. He feels targeted and wants justice. His voice gets louder and louder as he becomes more agitated.
Or a legislative staffer gets fired for menacing behavior that would not stop despite many warnings. As she is escorted out the door, she yells to her colleagues that she wishes they were all dead.
No one goes to work every day anticipating a violent or negative interaction, whether it be with a member of the public or a co-worker. With some planning and self-awareness and by following some tried-and-true techniques you probably learned as a child, you might dramatically reduce the chances of an uncomfortable situation escalating into a violent one.
These three tips come from a presentation given by Dan Billings, director of security for the Pennsylvania Senate.
1. Be Prepared
For Boy Scouts, this means ensuring you’ve got the supplies and know-how needed for any adventure. For legislative staffers, it means establishing a workplace violence plan in case your best efforts at de-escalation fail. You’ll need to know what to do next, where the emergency button is, what actions to take in various scenarios.
Being prepared also means following the safety regulations and policies of your office and legislature. Get to know your capitol security staff, how best to contact them and how they will respond.
The three biggest barriers to being prepared are believing that nothing will ever happen to you, fearing colleagues will think you are being alarmist and procrastinating.
2. Do Unto Others
Treat others as you would like to be treated if your roles or situations were reversed. Consider how upset you can get when things don’t go as you planned. Often, people come to the capitol to protest some wrong they feel they’ve suffered.
Give them your full attention, don’t be distracted or impatient, and be honest. Most people simply want someone to listen to them, even if you can’t solve their problem. Listen carefully and show some empathy to ease the tension.
“Allow people to voice their concerns,” Billings said. “It’s what we all want.”
3. Keep Calm, Carry On
Your natural reactions when confronted with a difficult situation are fight, flight or freeze.
Even though your adrenaline will rise, try to defuse the situation early. Be sincere and accurate; don’t mislead or lie to get a difficult person to go away. The longer it takes, the more frustrated the person may become and the more difficult it will be to de-escalate.
Calm confidence tends to undermine aggressive behavior. If the person is feeding off a crowd, try to get them to a more private location, but one that can be monitored by peers. And, by all means, Billings told the group, “Don’t say, ‘Just calm down,’ or ‘Please be quiet.’ That’s the same as saying, ‘I bet I can crank you up even more.’ ”