Keeping Yourself Safe

Being safe from harm is pretty much a perquisite for doing the kind of difficult work that we are talking about on this course. In fact, if we find ourselves at risk of serious harm our responsibility should be to ourselves and put a healthy distance between us, and those who may do us ill, a soon as conceivably possible. You may have been on a course but if they have a knife, a dog, a threatening manner of any kind or indeed if there are any other indicators of serious harm, we probably get out of the situation.

Most of us are lucky enough not to frequently confront violence and I’m glad about that. However if we are in roles where challenging conversations are the norm, we may need to be aware of the possibility of dangerous behaviour. Some of this we may consider “common sense” but its surprising how much our attitudes to violence are part of our prior life experiences and ideas of who we are. Some of this may be helpful but we probably need to make ourselves more consciously aware of our approaches to keeping ourselves, and others, safe.

Rules, Regulations and Responsibilities

I’m one of those irritating people who believe that Health and Safety regulations are good things. My first job was in an open cast coal mine and life-changing accidents, occasionally fatal, were all too frequent occurrences. There was a macho approach to safety and rules were sneered at. Organisations have a responsibility to help keep us safe and we need to make ourselves aware of these arrangements and shout out if they are not in place or our being flouted. In my first social work job I was unlucky enough to be present when my line manager was taken hostage. He was released physically unscathed but sadly never returned to work. We were a child protection team, all of which held a caseload of often very angry people. We had timidly complained for some time about the lack of security at the office entrance. Of course after this incident the builders moved in an we were given all the necessary security measures, however it was too late for that one individual.

I’m suggesting that we all find out what the arrangements are and stick to them. Make them part of the conversation in the workplace, do they work? Are they helping us relate to our customers, our service users? Encourage your colleagues to speak out those difficult and dangerous elements of the job and the measures put in place to keep us safe.

Repeat after me. Health and Safety IS cool.

Being Good at Difficult Conversations May Put us at Greater Risk

A 2016 study by the University of Bristol highlighted something interesting about safety equipment. People who road their bicycles wearing a helmet were more likely to take risks when out on their bikes. This response is called “risk compensation” and indicates that certain sorts of safety initiatives may cause people to actually take a higher level of risk. One of the indicators of receiving a knife injury is actually going out with a knife. It’s not such a huge leap to imagine that as we become more confident in dealing with difficult conversations, maybe even with those exhibiting very angry behaviour, we may allow ourselves to enter into situations where discretion might have been the better part of valour. Be mindful of this and take steps to ensure your own safety.

Intuition Being Safe vs Feeling Safe

I’d like to suggest that having difficult conversations is an advance human skill and that keeping ourselves safe from doing so is too-little discussed and rarely, if ever, taught. We are very much on our own and often have to make our own way, we really are making it up as we go along

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that great book on intuition Blink where he highlighted the powers and the pitfalls of intuition, citing incredible decision making by some individuals and impulsive prejudice influenced disasters such as the wrongful killing of black teenagers by police officers. The lesson is that we have to use intuition alongside other information about the situation we are facing.

Some of us think we are in danger when we are not, others that we are safe when at great peril. We need to use intuition, or gut feeling, along other information in order to best operate in challenging environments.

Reflective exercise

  • Make yourself aware of the security arrangements in the building you work the most. Are they fit for purpose? Do they enable you to have difficult conversations if necessary?
  • Think about the last time you were confronted by an angry or threatening individual. Think about what you said to yourself about how should have handled that situation. Check that what you might have said to yourself may be useful or indicate an over confident or casual response to threat.

Phil Jones

April 2017


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