Predator: Henry V., Louisiana state prison

Discussion: “That guy had it coming. He thought he was such a big shot. Always telling me I what I did wrong. Showing me up in front of everyone else at work. Yeah, he didn’t have too much to say when I filled his face full of lead,” said Henry V., an inmate in the Louisiana state prison system.

Henry’s running disagreement with his supervisor ended in the loss of three lives at his place of work. If the responding officers hadn’t gotten off a shot severely wounding the shooter, the incident likely would have been more deadly.

Henry was heading to a second building on the manufacturing complex when law enforcement officers arrived on the scene. Although the officers responded in less than 10 minutes after the first shots were fired, it was too late for Henry’s supervisor and two employees who worked in the warehouse with Henry.

Deaths from workplace violence, domestic violence, even traffic disputes. These incidents are all too common in the news today.

You need to know more than just the actions to take in the event of an active shooter. Learn the preemptive steps to defuse conflicts before they get to the point of violence. Use de-escalation techniques to keep conflicts with aggressive co-workers, an angry spouse, a foul-mouthed teen or the nut in the next lane from going nuclear.

Of course, not all conflicts can be resolved peacefully. Some individuals are ticking time bombs like Henry.

The best option may be to alert law enforcement.

In the workplace, employees will often tell a supervisor or Human Resources if someone verbalizes threats or mannerisms are threatening. But for many individuals – employees, customers, vendors or others – de-escalation is an effective technique.

Use de-escalation techniques only when a weapon is not present or there is no immediate threat to you or anyone else. It really boils down to a few commonsense steps.

Step 1. Personal awareness

You can’t control the other person. What you can control is yourself. Don’t let yourself get drawn into the drama. Remain calm above all. Remember, it’s about them, not you! The individual may feel threatened, scared or hurt. Anger is often displaced onto a “convenient” target. You’re “it”! The person often just wants to be heard. Keep a good attitude about the interaction and a positive view of the individual.

Prepare by always thinking ahead of time about potential scenarios before they occur. That way, you’ll be ready and won’t panic.

Step 2. Be Non-threatening

Be as non-threatening as possible in your body language and tone. The other person may be looking for any excuse for a fight. Don’t give one. Remember your body will naturally want to mirror the other person’s facial expressions and body language. It’s a neuro-biologically. If someone’s angry, our face starts to form a frown to mimic the other person. STOP! Deliberately tell yourself to keep your facial expression neutral.

If someone is yelling, lower your voice. The person will have to stop yelling to hear you. Speak in calm, measured tones.

The one thing you DO want to mirror is eye level. If the person is standing, you stand. If the person is sitting, you sit. Be an equal.

Be aware of your own cultural biases. They may influence how you treat an individual and how others respond to you. Misunderstandings can arise from language barriers and increase a person’s anxiety, prompting someone in emotional distress to lash out in frustration.

Step 3. Have a Discussion

Talk things out with the goal of mutually solving the problem. Your ultimate goal is to meet the other person’s needs as much as reasonably possible. Make sure you are listening to identify their needs. Show you are trying to work on how to deliver upon their needs. Humanize yourself with language like, “We/I want to help.” “We don’t need to get upset.” “Let’s get to a discussion.” “You want ____. I want ____.”

In many cases, the person is simply seeking validation or recognition. Treat the person as you would want someone to treat you or a member of your family. Take the person’s side rather than agreeing with the individual.

Listen closely to the individual and give your full attention. Ask how you can help. Reserve judgment and be empathetic. Speak slowly. One person at a time! Repeat information and paraphrase to confirm meaning. Focus on the person’s feelings.

Use silence to cool things off or break a heated rhythm. When possible, give the person a choice between alternatives. Set limits, and offer a positive choice first. Ask for the person’s ideas or solution. Use simple words.

Warning Signs

People usually don’t pull out shotguns and start blasting away. They provide clues. Most violent behavior is preceded by warning signs. If you see someone who is speaking loudly, yelling, swearing, and has a threatening tone of voice, then be on the lookout for potential violence.

TELL law enforcement and, where appropriate, the identified contact people at your organization. Likewise, if someone is pacing or agitated, shaking, clenching their fists, throwing things, beware. Other signals might be heavy breathing, a fixed stare, a terrified look, arms held tight across chest, sudden changes in behavior or indicators of drunkenness or substance abuse.

Defensive Measures

Make yourself a small target. Try to not be obvious, but turn sideways to lessen the surface area you present to the person. Maintain a good distance without looking like you’re ready to head for the hills. Give the person space – more than an arm’s length away (1.5 to three feet). Maintain eye contact only about 65% of the time.

Avoid giving orders or responding to insults. Don’t fake attention. Don’t make false promises. Don’t use jargon. Don’t answer challenging questions or get in a power struggle. Don’t tell the person to “calm down.”

If danger is imminent: If there is an immediate physical threat, then switch to the run, hide, fight technique.

Run away from the danger. If shots are fired, identify the direction the bullets are coming from to avoid running into harm’s way.

Hide until the threat has passed.

Fight only if you have to. The goal is to create enough space and time between you and the assailant to escape to relative safety.

But If your life is in imminent danger and other options have failed or are unavailable, attempt to incapacitate the attacker. If others are present, work as a team. Use improvised weapons to subdue the assailant.

This is a life or death situation, so fight aggressively to defend yourself.

Call 911 as soon as possible.

De-escalation works. Use it to defuse a potentially violent situation – at work, at school, at home. Anywhere there are people, there’s the chance for emotions to get out of control.

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