How to Deal with Explosive Behavior in the Workplace

Explosive behavior has no place at work. While this is an obvious statement, no doubt you have experienced an explosive outburst from a co-worker or employee. No matter how much we love our job or try to foster a good work environment, there can still be sources of friction or tension. Sometimes these issues build until there is an eruption of emotions. Other times, outside stressors, like COVID-19, societal uncertainty, or even family problems can spill over into workplace. A person who is normally calm can even be affected and respond poorly.

How can you deal with explosive behavior in the workplace? Here are 10 suggestions to help diffuse a volatile situation and even hopefully prevent it from happening again.

  1. Make sure you are safe. First and foremost, assess the situation for your own personal safety. If you are in danger, leave. Walk to a public setting. Go to security. Do whatever it takes to make sure you are not injured.
  2. Get the person’s attention. At the first sign of an outburst that doesn’t put you in physical danger, make it a priority to get the person’s attention. Try to calm them down and possibly remove them from the situation, especially if their anger is geared at a specific person. To do this, look directly at them and call their name loud enough for them to hear. Hearing their name is almost certain to make them pause, giving you the chance to pull them to the side. When calling their name, be sure to watch your tone and emotion.
  3. Turn the volume down. Even if they are shouting, there is no reason for you to raise your voice. In a calm, quiet manner let them know you understand their anger and want to help them. Using calm tones can help diffuse the situation. Do not yell at them to be quiet. That is almost certain to make them angrier and louder.
  4. Even if you are seething or scared on the inside, remain calm on the outside. Do not feed into the situation by yelling or physically confronting them. It will only make the situation worse. Avoid any temptation to argue or make a sarcastic reply, even if they make a derogatory comment toward you. Simply stay calm, knowing that these issues can be addressed after the person has calmed down.
  5. Acknowledge their anger. Once he or she is calm, allow him or her to present their problem. Be sure to give them your full attention and do not to interrupt. Their feelings may be legitimate, so try to see it from their perspective. If the cause of their anger is something you can’t immediately discuss rationally, take a step back. Choose a specific time to review what happened and what can be done to remedy the situation.
  6. Find a way to resolve the problem that triggered their explosive behavior. After they have finished talking, repeat back to them what they said. Try asking “I want to make sure I correctly understand what you are saying. You said this is the problem…Is that correct?” This will help to clarify any misunderstandings Then look for a way to solve the problem together. Don’t be patronizing or get angry. You may not be able to resolve immediately. For example, you may have to talk to a supervisor before making any changes. Let them know the steps involved. Don’t tell them “I’ll call you when I have the answer.” Give them a specific time to follow up, so they don’t think you are simply trying to placate them. If you don’t have an answer by that time, update them. Let them know that you are still working toward a resolution.
  7. Be completely clear that this type of behavior is not acceptable. Again, once everything has calmed down, you need to explain that this type of behavior is unacceptable in a professional environment. Let him or her know that if they have issues, there are more professional ways of addressing them.
  8. Make sure your employees know how to properly respond. When a coworker starts acting out, especially without any warning, it catches other employees off guard. They may not know how to react. Your company should implement a training program that teaches employees how to communicate and respond to workplace conflict. It’s a good idea to repeat the training every year as a refresher and for new employees.
  9. Confront inappropriate behavior when it starts. If you see a potential situation brewing, don’t ignore it. Resist the urge to excuse it as just a onetime thing or wait to see how it plays out. Stop the behavior immediately. Use it as an opportunity to explain what behavior is and is not appropriate in the workplace.
  10. Document the event. Be sure to include the date, time, persons involved, and the names of anyone who witnessed the event. Give a brief description of what led up to the event, a summary of what happened, and explain how the situation was resolved. This may take a little bit of investigative work on your part, but it is important to have detailed documentation in case the person was to exhibit more explosive behavior in the future.

Although explosive behavior has no place in the workplace, more than likely you will be faced with this situation. Use the tips discussed above to help you manage and resolve any explosive conflicts.

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