Author Bio ▼

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and is passionate about helping people who lead and work in organisations create better workplace experiences and improving work cultures. Get free resources and tactics on appropriately dealing with negative online and offline workplace behaviours at or contact Dr Flis at[email protected] or  LinkedIn. You can also follow Dr Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.
May 13, 2016

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Five effective steps to reducing occupational violence at work

So what is occupational violence, and how do you recognise it? One legal definition reports it as “repeated examples of organisational violence and aggression” that undermines workplace safety. It can include online, and offline, workplace incivility, aggression, abuse and bullying and is regarded as “voluntary behaviour that violates significant organisational norms and in so doing, threatens the well-being of an organisation, its members, or both” (Robinson & Bennet, 1995, p. 556).

Researchers found occupational violence more likely to manifest if workplace violence and aggression was accepted and normalised in the corporate culture (Mayhew, 2007; Weatherbee & Kelloway, 2006). In my research, I described occupational violence as a “violence continuum” that percolates as discourtesy, disrespect and uncivil behaviours that, without intervention, escalates into online or offline intimidation, bullying and harassment, verbal or cyber assault, and physical aggression.


Image courtesy of Dr Flis Lawrence, Founder – Stop Workplace Cyberbullying

Image courtesy of Dr Flis Lawrence, Founder – Stop Workplace Cyberbullying


Organisational researchers report that successful intervention processes rely on robust organisational reporting and rigorous conflict resolution procedures that are only successful when employees are confident in management’s authentic support in enforcing the resolution process.

5 steps in recognising & de-escalating workplace violence & feeling safe at work

My research, plus 25 years of workplace experience in military and government environments, enabled me to develop five steps that allows you to quickly recognise, and de-escalate, occupational violence, such as online and offline incivility, bullying, aggression and abuse. These steps ensure you are the one in control of the situation, so you can then take back your personal power and feel safer in the workplace.

Five steps to defuse occupational violence

5 steps

Five steps process developed by Dr Flis Lawrence, Founder – Stop Workplace Cyberbullying

1. Recognise that you are experiencing occupational violence as this allows you to immediately choose your response.

Is the perpetrator confused, threatening, yelling (or writing), profanities, talking (or writing about) hurting you or something or someone, standing over you, finger pointing and writing abusive emails or posts, making fists?

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 of your response! For example, take three deep breaths. Or, for a couple of seconds, vividly recall a happier event such as a holiday as this “mental break” helps move your body out of the fight/flight response and allows you to control your response (rather than a reaction). 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:

      • “Peter, how can I help you fix xx and xx?”
      •  “Mandy, would you mind repeating that [first, second, third sentence/part] please?”
      • “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 think (it’s hard to think clearly 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 can record the details?”. 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 Incident Workbook at the end of this article), and calmly, professionally reporting the incident to HR and your boss (or their supervisor). You will be taken more seriously if you remain calm during these discussions, and provide the evidence in a written report. Clearly 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, report the online or offline matter to your local police.

Avoid wherever possible:

  • Power struggles.
  • Becoming “sucked into” the argument or taking the issue(s) personally.



The Safety Conversation Podcast: Listen now!

The Safety Conversation with SHP (previously the Safety and Health Podcast) aims to bring you the latest news, insights and legislation updates in the form of interviews, discussions and panel debates from leading figures within the profession.

Find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts, subscribe and join the conversation today!

Related Topics

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michelle Griffin
Michelle Griffin
7 years ago

Brilliant clear article with straightforward actionable steps. Many thanks for sharing it.

7 years ago

No worries Michelle – let me know if you’d like me to write an article on a specific topic around this space.


Dr Flis Lawrence