Threats of Violence – Be Curious

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violence, potential for violence, assessment, threat assessment

I recently attended a conference related to violence and the assessment for its potential. I have attended many of these conferences over the years and have often seen a common punitive response presented for those who utter threats or are viewed as having the potential to escalate towards violence.

However, at the last conference I attended, I was pleasantly surprised to hear one speaker aptly explain how the outcome of threat assessment and intervention is often better served by using restorative response. While all threats should be taken seriously, we also know that most people who utter threats never follow through on them. When we engage these individuals with a punitive response, we may risk further isolating the individual and indirectly encourage escalation.

While it’s not always possible or appropriate, engagement with the person of concern is the best way to assess the likelihood of violence. Being curious with the person rather than bombarding them with a judgemental line of questions may look like this:

“I’m curious as to what you meant when you said/wrote…”
“I’d like to know more about your thoughts related to…”

In reality, paying attention to the type of questioning is only one element of curiosity. The interviewer’s body language and tone play an important role in setting a restorative approach versus a punitive one.

The assessment of the potential for violence is extremely challenging and in no way is this brief review meant to simplify the issue. The challenge in threat assessment is to be proactive without being overly reactive. Approaching individuals with curiosity is one of many important considerations involved in threat assessment.


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Randy Grieser (MSW, RSW) is the founder and CEO of CTRI and author of the book, The Ordinary Leader: 10 Key Insights for Building and Leading a Thriving Organization. He is also a co-author of The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. Both books are available on our website.

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