Disruptive, Threatening or Violent Behavior

What is Disruptive, Threatening or Violent Behavior?

Disruptive behavior disturbs, interferes with or prevents normal student and work functions or activities. Examples: yelling, using profanity, waving arms or fists, verbally abusing others, and refusing reasonable requests for identification.

Threatening behavior includes physical actions short of actual contact/injury (e.g., moving closer aggressively), general oral or written threats to people or property, ["You better watch your back" or "I'll get you"] as well as implicit threats ["you'll be sorry" or "this isn't over"].

Violent behavior includes any physical assault, with or without weapons; behavior that a reasonable person would interpret as being potentially violent [e.g., throwing things, pounding on a desk or door, or destroying property], or specific threats to inflict physical harm [e.g., a threat to shoot a named individual].

Dealing with Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom, Workplace, or Elsewhere

  • Ask to speak with the individual in a less public place.
  • Speak slowly and confidently.
  • Encourage the person to talk; listen closely and patiently.
  • Arrange yourself so your access to exits is not blocked.
  • Acknowledge the person's feelings.
  • Point out alternatives and break big problems into smaller problems.
  • Have a means of notifying other students, coworkers, or the police if disruptive behavior becomes threatening (panic button, code word).


Dealing with Threatening Behavior in the Classroom, Workplace, or Elsewhere

  • Communicate quietly and calmly. Try to diffuse the situation.
  • Do not take the behavior personally. Usually, the behavior has little to do with you, but you are used as a target in the situation.
  • Ask questions. Respectful concern and interest may demonstrate that aggression is not necessary.
  • Consider offering an apology. Even if you've done nothing wrong, an apology may calm the individual and encourage cooperation. "I'm sorry that happened. What can we do now that will solve the problem?"
  • Summarize what you hear the individual saying. Make sure you are communicating clearly. In crisis, a person feels humiliated and wants respect and attention. Your summary of the individual's concerns reflects your attention. Focus on areas of agreement to help resolve the concern.

If you are unable to resolve the situation, then:

  • If possible, find a quiet, safe place to talk, but do not isolate yourself with an individual you believe may be dangerous. Maintain a safe distance, do not turn your back and stay seated if possible. Leave the door open or open a closed door, and sit near the door. Be sure a facutly member, student, or co-worker is near to help if needed.
  • Use a calm, non-confrontational approach to defuse the situation. Indicate your desire to listen and understand the problem. Allow the person to describe the problem.
  • NEVER touch the individual yourself as you try to remove him or her from the area. Even a gentle push or holding the person's arm may be interpreted as an assault by an agitated individual who may respond with violence towards you or file a lawsuit later.
  • Set limits to indicate the behavior needed to deal with the concern. "Please lower your voice.""Please stop shouting (or using profanity) or I'll have to ask you to leave."

If the situation continues to escalate or you think there may be a threat of danger then:

  • Signal for assistance. The individual may be antagonized if you call for assistance so use a prearranged "distress" signal to have someone else (faculty member, fellow student, or co-worker) check on you to determine how you are. If you need help, that person should alert your supervisor and/or the police. If the situation escalates, find a way to excuse yourself, leave the room/area and get help. Examples include: "You've raised some tough questions. I'll consult my supervisor to see what we can do."
  • Do not mention discipline or the police if you fear an angry or violent response.