Thursday, 12 May 2016

5 steps to take back control during workplace confrontations

Five steps to take back control during workplace confrontations

Have you, or do you have friends or family, who have worked in organisations where the interpersonal communications were regularly punctuated by uncivil, disrespectful, passive aggressive or even bullying interactions that made you feel uncomfortable, disenfranchised and/or powerless?

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On one occasion I remember my boss walked into my office unannounced and directed me to amend the HRIS information for a junior staff member who reported to a colleague in my boss' branch. After 10 minutes, during which I tried to find out the real reason(s) behind this request, I indicated my general discomfort about amending the HRIS details for a team member who didn't work in my section. My boss then stormed out of my office, yelling, “Christ, you stupid cow!” and slammed my office door. 

So what is occupational violence?
One legal definition is the “repeated examples of organisational violence and aggression.” This includes online and offline workplace bullying. Occupational violence has also been defined as “organisational deviance” or “voluntary behaviour that violates significant organisational norms and in so doing threatens the well-being of an organisation, its members, or both.” Organisation deviance and occupational violence is often recognised as a "violence continuum." 

The violence continuum and workplace safety
In my thesis, I reported that the first signs of workplace "violence continuum" can be observed as discourteous, disrespectful behaviours such as making facing behind your back or eye rolling, which without intervention intensify into interpersonal intimidation and threatening behaviour, such as throwing staplers or pens. 

If not stopped, this behaviour will then escalate into online/offline harassment, abuse, bullying and mobbing including spreading online and offline rumours and images. Without intervention, this behaviour then manifests into verbal and/or cyber assault and overt physical aggression. 

This type of behaviour, if not interrupted, has a huge potential to make people feel unsafe at work. 

Interrupting workplace violence relies on robust reporting and conflict resolution processes, that are only successful when employees feel confident in their organisation’s management authenticity and support in enforcing the resolution process.

5 steps to taking back control during a workplace confrontation 

1. Is this behaviour occupational violence? How to recognise that you are experiencing occupational violence.

   Is the perpetrator confused, threatening, yelling (or writing), profanities, talking about (or writing about) hurting you or something or someone, standing over you, finger pointing and writing abusive emails or posts, making fists? Take a moment to recognise how you are feeling. Ask yourself, “Do I feel unsafe right now?” If so, then you are likely experiencing online and/or offline workplace violence, which range from deliberate disrespect to aggression, bullying or abuse.

     2. Stay calm. If you show any distress the perpetrator is more likely to see that they are affecting you and act more aggressively.

   Control your response! For example, take three deep "ocean" breaths (image you're on a beach overlooking the sea and taking your first real breaths of sea breeze). Or, for a couple of seconds, vividly recall a happier event such as a holiday - this “mental break” helps move your body out of the fight/flight response and allows you to control your response (rather than a reaction) and stay calm. You can practice this technique with anyone at any time.

      3. Listen and Clarify.

   Defuse the behaviour by remaining calm and professional, listening and ask clarifying, open-ended questions. This strategy helps the person use their rational, rather than their emotional, side of their brain. For example:
       a). “Peter, how can I help you fix xx and xx?”
       b).    “Mandy, would you mind repeating that [first, second, third sentence/part]      
       c). “Just to be crystal clear, Sam, you said xx and xx needs to be changed – how 
             does that sound?”

 4. Time out.

   Further defuse the situation and take back control by asking if you can take notes to “make sure you remember all the details.” This is a very professional strategy that allows you to occasionally break eye contact and have an excuse to look away, and to think (it’s hard to think clearly in confrontation situations when being forced to maintain constant eye contact). You’re also developing your evidence! This simple technique takes the pressure off you without being submissive. For example, “Pia, do you mind if I take notes so I'm crystal clear?” Lean slightly forward and nod occasionally to indicate you’re listening.

5. Document and Report

   Empower yourself by documenting the incident’s details (use the Workplace Workbook below/at the end of this article), and calmly, professionally reporting the incident to HR and your boss (or their supervisor). You will be taken much more seriously if you remain calm during these discussions, and provide clear evidence in a written report. Also, state this incident has made you feel unsafe and request options to help you feel safe@work – feel free to develop your own options. For any online matters, report to your ICT team. If you feel threatened and concerned about your personal safety, report the online or offline matter to your local police.

Avoid wherever possible:
o   Power struggles.
o   Becoming “sucked into” the argument or taking the issue(s) personally.

Reporting procedure by Dr Flis Lawrence, Founder – Stop Workplace Cyberbullying

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture. You can contact Dr Flis at LinkedIn  or follow Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook

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