Every day, says Jim Sawyer, CHS-III, CPP, CHPA, Director of Security Services for Seattle Children’s Hospital, there are 16,000 threats of workplace violence. Sawyer is a crime prevention and personal safety presenter, a nonviolent crisis intervention certified instructor, a member and presenter with Homeland Security, and a president and past president with the Washington State Crime Prevention Association.

Key to mitigating workplace violence, Sawyer says, are recognizing verbal and non-verbal signs of violence, in addition to paying attention to your “gut instinct.” Sawyer suggests that intuition can be an element that can help contribute to zero incidents. “It’s of sentinel importance for security staff to hone, honor and listen to their intuition,” Sawyer relates. There are five ways a person’s intuition will speak to them: heart rate, perspiration, nausea, feeling indecisive and hair rising on the back of your neck.


According to Sawyer, some of the verbal warning signs of violence are:

  1. Threats – Direct
  2. Threats – Veiled
  3. Threats – Conditional
  4. Boasts of prior violence
  5. Confused thinking
  6. Bragging about losing control
  7. An increase in pitch when speaking – indicates throat is tightening
  8. Repetitive word use, parroting and or echoing
  9. Forced or strained speech
  10. A nervous laugh or laughing at inappropriate times (Laughing is a way for a body to shed emotions.)
  11. When a person speaks to others about someone as if they are not present
  12. Yelling or screaming
  13. Non-stop profanity
  14. Slurred speech
  15. Talk of hurting animals


The non-verbal signs of impending violence include:

  1. Personal space violation
  2. Standing toe to toe
  3. Finger pointing
  4. Making fists
  5. Staring through you
  6. Face flushing
  7. Heavy breathing
  8. Flaring nostrils
  9. Person refuses any eye contact
  10. Someone blocks egress


Sawyer also offers verbal and non-verbal dos and don’ts that security teams can use to de-escalate a situation.

The verbal do’s include:

  1. Use the person’s name.
  2. Ask “May I help you?”
  3. Speak slowly.
  4. Use restatement for clarification.
  5. Ask to take notes.
  6. Paraphrase.
  7. Use “what” and “we.”
  8. Allow time for reflection.
  9. Give options.
  10. Ask for their idea or solution.
  11. Use simple words.
  12. Maintain 65-percent eye contact.


The verbal don’ts include:

  1. Don’t allow long waits.
  2. Don’t fake attention.
  3. Don’t roll your eyes.
  4. Don’t make false promises.
  5. Don’t use jargon.
  6. Don’t agree with someone – take their side.
  7. Don’t cut people off.
  8. Don’t get in a power struggle.
  9. Don’t raise your voice.
  10. Don’t fail to document.
  11. Don’t lose temper.
  12. Don’t ever meet an angry person one on one.
  13. Don’t allow more than one person to talk.
  14. Don’t argue.
  15. Don’t say “calm down.”