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How to Recognize and Defuse Anger in the Workplace

By now you’ve heard the tragic news. A Spanish teacher fired from the Episcopal School of Jacksonville returns to the school, shoots and kills the school’s headmistress and then himself. It’s another chilling reminder that workplace violence in the U.S. is a persistent and dangerous problem. How bad is it? A statistic from the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that homicide is the fourth-leading cause of occupational injuries. And it is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.

But the real tragedy, says Mike Staver, is that so many of these violent incidents could be avoided if employees and leaders understood how to recognize violence triggers and how to defuse them in the workplace.

“Most people who act out violently at work indicate what’s going to happen through their words and behavior beforehand,” says Staver, creator of the audio and video series 21 Ways to Defuse Anger and Calm People Down ( “And while that may not have been the case in this Jacksonville incident, when people can recognize the warning signs, they can do more to prevent these terrible situations.”

Through his materials and workplace seminars, Staver trains organizations on how best to handle conflict resolution and defuse violence in the workplace, teaching employees and leaders what they should and shouldn’t do in these high-stress situations.


Most people believe that violence occurs when someone is angry about certain circumstances. The truth is, they get angry over what they believe about the circumstances. When a person gets angry, says Staver, it’s because at least one of three primary triggers is in place. They feel:

  1. This is unfair.
  2. This is out of my control.
  3. This is personal; it’s happening to me.

Note that when these factors are present they can manifest themselves in many ways. The angry employee might simply have a drop in performance level. He might make threatening comments to another employee or about the company in general. Or in extreme circumstances resort to worse violence, as the Florida teacher did.

“The more intensely the person feels these factors, the worse the violence can get,” says Staver. “Naturally, if you see these triggers in a coworker or employee, you should be very concerned. It might seem unusual that this violent act occurred at a school between a teacher and principal when so much of the violence in our schools seems to be perpetrated by students. But this situation is proof that these incidents can happen in any workplace.”          

Of course, the key to preventing workplace violence is knowing what to do when you see that a coworker might be susceptible to these triggers or is displaying other warning signs—such as bullying you or other coworkers, substance abuse, frequently discussing marital or other non-professional problems, making idle threats, etc.

“First and foremost, take all warning signs very, very seriously,” says Staver. “Second, and this is just as important, report it right away. Let me repeat that: Report it right away! Far too often coworkers don’t report these incidents. It happens for many reasons: They believe the popular myth that people who make threats don’t act on them; they don’t want to seem like alarmists; they fear they’ll become a target; or there isn’t a sufficient workplace safety and incident reporting system in place. But when you suspect something is wrong, you should report it right away. If the leadership at your organization isn’t taking it seriously, then go to the authorities.


“That said, companies should not place the burden fully on employees,” he concludes. “All organizations should make sure that they have workplace violence policies in place, that all employees have a clear understanding of the policies, and that all employees know how to take action and what to expect when they do report an incident. Managers and leaders should also be well trained in how to defuse anger in the workplace and also what kinds of situations are out of their control and demand that law enforcement be involved. There is simply too much at risk to avoid taking these actions.”

About Mike Staver

Mike Staver is CEO of The Staver Group, a national team of strategic business advisors and coaches. He is the creator of the audio and video series 21 Ways to Defuse Anger and Calm People Down, and he is the author of Do You Know How to Shut Up? (Mac Daddy Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 978-0980185706, $10.95). Mike travels the country speaking to Fortune 500 companies and start-ups, and works as a confidential advisor to top-level executives and CEOs. His focus is on helping people move from where they are in business and life to where they want to be.

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