How to React to a Workplace Attack

Workplace Attack Since 2008, there has been a rise in workplace violence that many experts believe is closely associated with the increasing pressure people are feeling at work and overall uncertainty about jobs nationally. Stress or conflict at work, financial issues and even trouble at home can all contribute to workplace violence.

Employers are becoming more aware of the need to have policies and procedures in place that will guide employees who may come face-to-face with someone intent on doing harm. If you find yourself in a violent situation, whether physical or verbal, there are some things you should try to remember. It's important to think about them now, while you are calm, so that you will be better prepared to act in a worst case scenario.

When violence breaks out in the workplace, you are faced with three options: run, hide or take action. If you do find yourself in a close encounter with someone intent on inflicting harm, you or those you work with will probably not be able to run or hide. "Take action" includes many scenarios, but if having to talk to a person bent on violence is the situation you've found yourself in, this advice may be helpful:

  • Remain calm – The calmer you are, the better you will be able to think about how to properly handle the situation. You may also make others feel safer if you are calm and not panicked.
  • Use an open stance – The way you present yourself is critical. It is your goal to help defuse the attacker's anger and get them to remain calm. The attacker has to believe you are not going to attack them, and the way you stand can reinforce that. Use a slightly open stance with one foot behind the other and most of your weight on your back foot. Not only does this convey a neutral signal but it also gives you more freedom to react should you be attacked
  • Do not raise your voice – Speak in a normal, even tone.
  • Listen, listen and listen – Maybe the attacker just wants to be heard. Let them vent and do not interrupt or argue with him or her.
  • Think before you speak – Certain comments could confuse the attacker or imply that your opinions are more important than theirs. Ask the attacker, "I can see that you are upset. How can I help?" Avoid using these phrases:

"I know how you feel."

"You shouldn't be angry. It is no big deal."

"Don't worry about it. You'll be fine."

  • Don't take anything personally – People who have reached the point where they are prepared to act out violently might be looking for someone to take their side and get emotionally involved in their issue.
  • Be mindful of your facial expressions – You can nod to indicate that you understand what is being said, but you should be careful about openly agreeing or disagreeing. The idea, again, is to let the person talk.
  • Keep your hands in view of the attacker – Your palms might be sweaty from nerves but it is better to show your palms to the attacker rather than crossing your arms or making a fist. This conveys a non-confrontational demeanor and also shows the attacker that you are not armed.
  • Maintain eye contact – Maintain regular eye contact with the attacker but don't stare at or try to stare him down. The idea is to use eye contact to "connect" and build a level of trust that might help the attacker continue talking and calm down.
  • If a weapon is involved – Follow the attacker's orders. Unless you are confident that your life is in immediate danger, you should not try to disarm an attacker.

In all violent situations, be sure to call 911 as soon as possible. Fully cooperate with arriving police and keep your hands visible to them as they have no way of knowing who the attacker is and who may be an innocent bystander.

The most important way you can contribute to the successful outcome of a violent confrontation in the workplace is to be informed and alert, remain calm and contact a manager or police as soon as you witness violent or potentially violent behavior in the workplace. Workplace violence can happen in any environment, within any industry, so it is important to understand how to handle a violent workplace situation. For more information on workplace violence, visit

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