How prophetic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, during his inaugural address in 1933, when he uttered those famous words, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance…” While the context at the time was far different than our experiences today, these words aptly describe how workers are feeling in 2019. I have been fortunate to work in the public and private sector for over 30 years. Never in my career have I experienced the level of fear in the workplace I see today. While there is cause to be concerned about violence, the challenge for security professionals is mitigating this concern before it elevates to fear.
I believe there is little debate anymore about the impact of violence on the American worker’s psyche. The recent incident in Virginia Beach serves as yet another example of why American workers are frightened. While information is still being gathered, we know a “veteran city engineer” used a firearm to target people he worked with for years. If the investigation runs its typical course, facts and other information will surface that will provide some insight; but, like many incidents of this nature, will fall far short of painting a complete picture. Tragic incidents like this defy understanding and leave a lasting imprint in our mind.
Organizations, especially ones open to the public, feel the tension. I have directly experienced circumstances where fear becomes so compounded, some staff feel the need to go home even when the threat is benign. In other words, “…paralyzing the ability convert retreat into advance.” From my perspective, “instant” knowledge fuels this fear. For example, we immediately know when an active assailant has occurred. Due to mandated reporting laws in many states, we can also easily find out the latest trends in workplace violence. The perception of one’s safety can instantly elevate based on what is read on-line during lunch.
What can be done to provide workers comfort when they experience fear? Security professionals know some peace of mind can be found in a strong security posture and training. A properly trained and staffed security team serves as a deterrent to violence and enhances the overall feeling of safety. Conflict resolution training, a strong zero tolerance stance on workplace violence, mandated reporting and active-assailant training are all helpful because it enhances communication, threat recognition, reaction time and response. Engineering strategies such as video systems, electronic access, employee identification and duress alarms have preventative benefits as well. Unfortunately, these barriers can be easily defeated. For example, a threat received via the telephone instantly touches the interior of the organization and sends the message that the threat is close-by when it could be hundreds of miles away.
The challenge is providing comfort to people who are in fear based on what they have experienced, even if minor. Common and vague threats such as, “I’ll be back” or “I’ll make you pay” often produce terror and a leap in thought to they are definitely coming back with a gun. I have experienced staff who simply cannot work and need to go home because of the strong, but misplaced belief violence is about to occur. It is important as security professionals to seize this moment and leverage it to produce comfort.
Trust, Credibility & Comfort
The power of trust, credibility and comfort when trying to calm a fearful employee or when influencing an entire organization cannot be overlooked. A comparison can be found in healthcare. We can become very fearful when experiencing symptoms that could be serious. A subsequent examination by a physician leads to the conclusion that we have nothing to worry about. The doctor’s opinion gives us comfort because it is based on their experience and training. In other words, their word gives us comfort because we trust them. We trust the expert, and it is this trust that gives us comfort.
The challenge for security professionals is providing this same level of comfort when an employee or organization is experiencing fear. For security entities who provide human behavioral threat assessment we want the fearful employee to trust us, to believe in our opinion, based on science, (threat assessment software program, training and experience) that the threat is minor. To develop this trust and to provide comfort, the security professional needs to:
- Establish a strong partnership between security and staff – share your experiences, make yourself available, provide safety presentations, conduct human behavioral and physical threat assessments, active-assailant defense and other safety presentations.
- Market your services and expertise – prepare security articles for internal publication; personal and professional safety tips, home safety and others.
- Security staff and their leaders need to exude confidence – professionally dressed, clean uniform (for those with a uniformed security presence) free of damage and avoiding unprofessional language.
- Be a fast problem-solver – our critical stakeholders expect problems to be addressed; what leaves a lasting impression is when problems are solved quickly.
- Promote credibility – based on training and experience; many have opinions, but know you are the expert.
- Familiarity breeds trustworthiness – they will come to trust and believe you.
- Follow-through on commitments and bring resolution for those initially involved.
- Speak to their fear. Know a rational appeal will probably not work because they are afraid. Assess appropriately. What services can you provide?
- Check in for the next several weeks. Let them know you have not forgotten. For example, one employer experienced thefts from their parking lot. Track how many patrols and contacts security made for two weeks and report back to the victims what you did and the results.
- Sustain absolute trust through consistency each and every time.
For further information on how to build a strong and competent security team and how to have your word provide comfort, contact Premier Risk Solutions at www.premierrisksolutions.com.
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