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We all like to think of ourselves as being safe and secure while at work, protected from all forms of violence and aggression. However, wherever people interact there is potential for violence. The advice in this document will help keep communications between individuals – whether they are managers, supervisors and co-workers or employees and the customers, clients, patients, or student they work or interact with – on a positive note.
Knowing some basic communications skills (verbal and non-verbal) and some "problem solving" strategies can help prevent problems from occurring or can stop a small problem from getting bigger or out of control. Workplace harassment and violence can start as a small incident involving negative remarks and inappropriate behaviour. These small incidents can sometimes escalate to physical or psychological violence.
NOTE: In this document, we use the term violence to also include bullying and harassment
Please refer to the following OSH Answers documents for more information:
Verbal communication skills are the way that you talk to another person or other people. Verbal communication includes the words you choose to use and the way in which you use them (for example, the tone (angry or calm) or volume (loud or soft)).
When you are interacting with other people, you should:
Non-verbal communication skills include things like your body language and position. People communicate through both their words and their bodies. The way you position or use your body can be calming or could aggravate a situation.
More importantly, you should not:
Some tips for understanding the other's concerns include:
It is important that you try to avoid escalating the situation. Establish ground rules if the unreasonable behaviour continues. Calmly describe the consequences of violent or aggressive behaviour. Suggest alternatives, and avoid giving commands or making conditional statements.
If your situation involves punishment or sanctions (for example, you are an enforcement officer), and you feel that the situation is becoming very negative or escalating, do not proceed until you have back-up or the situation is safer.
It is important to know how to safely and effectively end a conversation or interaction before the situation escalates. Here are some tips:
Politely and calmly end the interaction in a non-threatening way, if possible.
Know what back-up and advice (e.g. from your manager, supervisor or a co-worker) is available to help you when handling a difficult individual.
If you have threatened to call the police or security, be sure that you do.