So my last post was to give you an idea of what signs are apparent when someone enters your workplace in order to cause harm. This post is about what you can do to make sure you are safe in this situation, for consistency I will be using the example of a reception again.
Help each other –
Usually something has preceded the threat such as a phone call or incident; it is very rare that an attack is unprovoked people who say ‘it came out of nowhere’ may feel this is the case but the perpetrator has most likely had a conversation or disagreement with someone before hand, this may not be the person who their aggression is directed at when they arrive at your workplace. Because of this it is important, especially for shift workers to have a process in place to relay information from one person to another to pre warn them there may be trouble. For example at the end of a shift there should be a place (this could be a book, email, file) where any incidents are marked down such as ‘had a call today from xxx regarding a problem with xxx. Xxx became angry as it had not been resolved and I couldn’t help, xxx ended the call abruptly and said they may come down to resolve it in person.’ This warns the new shift who the person is, what they are angry about and what their intentions are so the new shift can be prepared and inform everyone who may need to know such as security. Remember PREWARNED IS PREARMED.
On the ball.
So by now you are aware there may be someone coming to your workplace in an angry and agitated state of mind so you should be looking out for someone who ticks the boxes I mentioned in my last post. What do you do when you spot that person coming towards you? First thing you should remember is there is safety in numbers so make sure you signal to a colleague or security to stay with you, this could be a tap on the arm/leg, a safe word, if you know the name of the person make sure when you greet them say it loudly so that others around know not to leave you. You may have an emergency button under the desk, don’t be afraid to push it, trust your gut instinct.
Try to build rapport, ask permission to ask a question, mirror their body language and match their volume of speech (although never shout or be aggressive). The best way to do this is – you are sitting behind a desk when they enter but they are standing up, slowly stand up, allow them to air their grievances and then say ‘I understand what you are saying and I’d like to be able to help you, would you mind taking a seat and we can discuss this further?’ if the person says ‘no’ then remain standing and say ‘would you mind if I asked my manager to come over to speak to you to see if they can help you?’ At all times make sure your arms are lifted to about waist height as this will prepare them for defence if needed and keep your body in a strong stance (legs apart).
Keeping them calm.
Allow them to talk, after all may grievances are caused because someone does not feel listened to or because people are not doing what they say they will do. Ask open questions (questions that require more than a yes or no) to allow them to carry on talking, make sure they realise you want to help them by using empathy regarding the situation use phrases such as ‘I can see that.’ Or ‘I can see how that must be frustrating for you’ The most important thing to try to do is break their cycle, often people will continue repeating themselves which will begin to infuriate them even more however they are unable to control it, they need to stop ‘reliving’ the problem and see a solution. This can be done by introducing another person if you are struggling or if you cannot give them the solution they are looking for or moving to a different space within the reception area.
If it’s not working
By moving to a different area this could change their behaviour, are they playing to a crowd or are they using the fact there is no one in earshot to hear them? Make sure you are near an exit and that you have a clear escape route. If you need to introduce a new person into the situation make sure they are aware of the tactics you have tried so they can use different ones and see if they react differently. If the conversation is recorded, tell them, this may help them think more about what they are saying and how they are behaving.
To keep yourself safe make sure you are wearing shoes you can run in, clothing that cannot be grabbed but allows you to move quickly and hair that cannot be grabbed or impair your vision. Position yourself safely, if you have a seat behind a desk make sure you are not tucked behind it, make sure your body is facing an exit to allow quick departure from the desk and to a doorway and make sure the space you are in is open so you are unable to be trapped by walls or corners. The real trick is personal safety, the safer you feel the more in control of the situation you will be.