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Workplace Violence Is No Joke

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Going postal.” Some things are too serious to make light of under any circumstances. Violent acts in the workplace are a good example. They are too horrifyingly tragic and graphic to have earned an amusing buzzword of a nickname.

Perhaps the reason people feel comfortable using the term (and ignoring what it really stands for) is that there have been far too many of these shocking incidents. In watching the eye-catching news stories, however, a common and questionable theme emerges. Someone who is interviewed at the scene will invariably make a comment along the lines of, “No one could have predicted this.”

Oh, really?

In the days and weeks that follow a particularly violent incident, such as a shooting, a picture often emerges of a person who actually did appear to be a bit “off” to co-workers and bosses, in a way that only made sense to them when looking back.

In fairness to those in charge of organizations who have been impacted by workplace violence, most people assume that it is not possible to accurately predict which employee and which set of circumstances will lead to tragedy. People also assume that they way they communicate with, or even the way they go about firing someone, cannot change the course of an “unpredictable” act. Correct? Not everyone thinks so.

It is, in fact, possible to predict the potential for violence with a high degree of accuracy. The science is there, and it’s in use every day in the workplace. Behavioral experts have helped to thwart violent acts before they happen, saving lives in the process.

Dan Korem is one such expert. His company, Korem & Associates  has trained over 30,000 professionals in on-the-spot behavioral profiling skills. After several years of research, his book The Art of Profiling—Reading People Right the First Time outlines his behavioral profiling system.

Korem is quick to point out the differences between behavioral profiling and racial (or other) stereotyping. “Racial and ethnic profiling is the opposite of behavioral profiling,” says Korem. Stereotyping, he says, is dangerously misleading, in that we make assumptions based on how a person looks—especially when they are “different” from us.

The trouble is, the person with the “nice” appearance, who looks, talks, and dresses just like we do, may display behaviors that indicate the potential for trouble. And we’re going to miss it if we’re concerned only with outward appearances and ethnic/cultural/racial differences.

One of the profiles in the Korem system is what he terms the “Random Actor.” These are the people who display a set of behaviors that could potentially lead to violence. This, of course, does not guarantee that they will commit a violent act. What will often happen is that a life crisis of some sort will push them over the edge. It could be anything from a bad breakup to a sudden job loss, all too common in a tough economy.

It can’t be said enough here that behavior experts are talking about possibilities and potential outcomes. The person who fits the profile may never have that bad day, or they may have it tomorrow.

That’s the bottom-line question for employers, and I pose it here to you: can you decide not to hire someone based on what they might do?

There’s already some healthy debate taking place on my blog—do stop by if you would like to share your opinion.

By Carolyn Kepcher for  Work Her Way


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