Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
March 22, 1996

Characteristics of potentially violent people

This is the second of three articles on violence in the workplace.

Often, there are warning signs that people have a potential for violence in the workplace. You can help guard against violence in your office by familiarizing yourself with these signs and seeking help when you observe them.

The threat is the clearest warning sign of violence. This includes direct threats ("I'll get even with him"), as well as veiled and conditional threats ("If I'm fired, someone will pay").

Other signs may accompany a threat. A potentially violent person typically engages in several of these behaviors:

  • Unusually argumentative

  • Doesn't cooperate with others or causes trouble on the job

  • Has conflicts with authority figures, often challenges management's requests and breaks rules or policies

  • Exhibits marked changes in work patterns, like tardiness or absenteeism

  • Frequently is depressed

  • Abuses alcohol or drugs

  • Has a history of violent acts

  • Appears inflexible, emotionally disturbed or demonstrates bizarre behaviors

  • Is quick to identify unfairness or malice in others, and may keep notes about those who violate rules or policies

  • Perseveres in holding a grudge

  • Displays preoccupation with weapons

  • Has experienced extreme stress in personal life or job

  • Frequently mentions violent acts committed by others

  • Expresses empathy with those who resort to violence

    Studies also show people who commit workplace violence tend to be white males, 35 years or older, with a history of violence toward women, children or animals. They also tend to have these characteristics:

  • Own weapons

  • Display fascination with violence and weapons

  • Have few interests outside work

  • Are withdrawn and loners

  • Externalize blame for disappointments

  • Served in the military

  • Have a history of mental health issues

  • Proselytize for causes

  • Think they will lose their jobs

  • Have interpersonal conflicts

    Those who are less likely to be involved in workplace violence tend to exhibit these stabilizing characteristics:

  • Honorable discharge from the military

  • High level of education

  • Involved in community organizations

  • Belong to families that have stayed together

  • Show pattern of responsibility for selves and others and serve as positive role models for families

  • Maintain religious or moral philosophies

  • Oriented toward the future and their careers

  • Are optimistic

  • Don't abuse drugs and alcohol

  • Have no history of violence or criminal behavior

  • Have long-standing good peer relationships and are cooperative

  • Are depressed (low energy)

  • Have a high degree of empathy

    In making a decision about someone's potential for violence, it is important to weigh both the warning signs and stabilizing characteristics.

    If you are concerned about the potential violence of someone you know, consult as soon as possible with professional staff at Employee Assistance Program, 4-5069; Public Safety, 4- 4428; or Environmental Health and Safety, 4-5359.

    Next: Preventing workplace violence and intervening with a potentially violent person.

    Source: Charlene G. Gooch

    Inside Iowa State
    University Relations

    Copyright © 1995
    Iowa State University
    All rights reserved

    Revised 3/22/96