4 steps to de-escalate confrontation in an angry worker

by on July 24, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Someone complains about safety – and it’s legitimate. But he’s extremely angry – more angry than you’d think under the circumstances.

Is your best bet to discuss the safety complaint with him at that moment?

As the following case shows, no. It’s best to deal with the anger first.

A truck driver found a series of problems with his assigned vehicle. Each time he found something wrong, he stormed into his supervisor’s office, angrier and angrier.

The driver’s tone and volume got so hostile that others came to see the commotion. The supervisor fired him.

The driver sued, saying he was fired for complaining about safety. An OSHA judge disagreed, saying the driver was fired for how he complained about safety.

If you face a similarly angry worker, here are some options:

  1. Stop the conversation. If someone is escalating, supervisors need to de-escalate.
  2. Remain calm and acknowledge the person’s complaint: “I understand the tire treads are mismatched. We can discuss it.”
  3. Identify the emotion and get at the real issue, if possible. “You can’t be this angry about mismatched tire treads. Would you like to tell me what’s really going on?”
  4. If the person doesn’t open up, ask/give them a time out. “You’re a good worker and we’d hate to lose you. Take (a few minutes, a day, a suspension, depending on the context) so you can get your thoughts in order before we continue the discussion.”

Cite: Formella v. U.S. DOL and Schnidt, No. 09-2296, 7th Cir.

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