Workplace conflict usually takes mild forms like disagreements between coworkers. But, if a situation escalated into violence, do you know what to do in your organization?
I was utterly shocked when I heard about the Oklahoma employee who beheaded his co-worker after being fired from his job for making inflammatory racial comments against white people. The incident made national news. You can read about it here. At the same time this incident was being reported, I coincidentally was doing a training workshop on confrontation at a client’s organization. The conversation got really interesting when I asked my participants what they would say if:
You walk past the stock room and you see your coworker putting several company hats, mugs, pens, and other paraphernalia in a large purse.
One participant said, ” I wouldn’t do anything. I would go report them.”
Another participant said, “Why would you report them? You don’t know what is going on!”
This scenario prompted a lot of quality discussion. In that part of the confrontation workshop we were examining how personal integrity and the stress of a situation can cause us to communicate poorly in high stakes situations if we are not prepared. We like to think that we would act from a place of integrity in high stakes situations but do we really know how we would act if we found ourselves in that situation?
What would you do or say if you saw that scenario in your organization?
Would you report it? Would you pretend you didn’t see it? Would you gossip about it to another employee? Would you ask your co-worker what was going on?
Confrontation, the way I define it in my workshops, happens all the time. We confront people everyday. Confrontation happens on a continuum from mild to severe. When we hear the word confrontation, most people jump to the severe cases, like the coworker stealing at work or like the Oklahoma man in the latest news story headline. How you respond to confrontation depends a lot on your experience, skills, upbringing, and confidence. It also has a lot to do with the culture of an organization.
What to do:
1. Know the rules.
In light of the fact that the Oklahoma man’s motive was to retaliate after a co-worker reported him, do you know your organization’s policy regarding what you think might be an employee breaking the law? Are you well versed on the company policy? Did you nod off during the legal or compliance section of the presentation? Familiarize yourself with the policy and procedures for how your company wants you to report illegal or inappropriate behavior.
2. Act in integrity.
Enron, Maddoff, Penn State, and the Secret Service are all scandals in which the people looked the other way when something “inappropriate” was happening. Integrity is doing what is right regardless of the circumstances. Integrity in communication will never happen without bravery and courage. Act in a way that you can be proud of afterwards. Basically, do what is right.
3. Make a plan.
Pay attention to the emergency drills, the EHS safety day trainings, and the hand book, so you can make a plan of action. If you don’t know what to do, find out.
Please pray for the victims, the perpetrator, and their families in that Oklahoma incident. Most of us will never face this level of conflict in the workplace, yet we may feel threatened or unsafe. Knowing the rules, acting in integrity, and making a plan are the best first steps.
Have you ever confronted someone in a high stakes situation? What happened? Please leave your comment below.