Staying Silent on Problematic Behaviors

One of the challenges in working to reduce violence in the workplace is the failure by some inside the organization to report problematic behaviors that may lead to targeted violence. Former FBI Special Agent Mary Ellen O’Toole identified four primary reasons during her time with the FBI’s Behavioral Assessment Unit. Understanding and overcoming these behaviors may help organizations assess and manage threats of violence in their workplaces. By doing so they may be able to intervene before the violence manifests itself.

Normalizing Behavior– Some will find a way to identify the problematic behavior as normal, either for that person or for a group they belong to. And while elements of that normalization may have some merit, it should not dismiss the behavior or rule out further examination.

Rationalizing Behavior– This involves excusing the problematic behavior so as to minimize concerns about what was said or done. It’s not only common in workplace violence, but rationalization is one of the three key elements in the Fraud Triangle whereas the fraudster or others find ways to legitimize their actions.

Ignoring Behavior– This occurs when those aware of the problematic behavior ignore it because it does not involve them (no direct threat), or simply don’t want to get involved. This can accompany what is referred to as “leakage”, where the person in question tells a third party of his or her intentions or feelings, but that information and behavior are not reported to those who might intervene.

Icon Intimidation– An icon is an object of uncritical devotion. Intimidation may be used to compel a person to do something, or deter them by making threats. People may be less likely to report problematic behavior if it is being exhibited by someone who, through their position or status, would not be thought of as a threat.

Obviously not all problematic or questionable behaviors result in threats of violence. And not all of the aforementioned behaviors are limited to violence in the workplace. They may also exist in cases of internal fraud, embezzlement, theft of intellectual property, and other “insider threats”. Most importantly is for organizations to understand that these behaviors may be blockers in prudent and responsible reporting to management. Don’t let them be barriers to “See Something, Say Something”.

About the Author

Jim Dale is the owner and principal of Seven Citadels Consulting. Jim brings to clients more than 40 years of security and risk experience in both the private and public sectors. Formerly the Chief Security Officer (CSO) for three Fortune 500 companies, he is board certified in security management as a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and is a Certified Threat Manager (CTM). He’s a member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC), and ASIS International. Jim was previously a career officer, commander, and special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.