Violence and Agression

by Darren Good and Liz Hudson

How does violence arise?

Violence at work begins with conflict, and conflicts begin where people have different ideas on what ‘should’ happen. Essentially, a difference of opinion is simply a disagreement, and is usually worked out between the parties without problems. It escalates to a conflict where one party seeks to get their own way, regardless of the effect on the other, the rights of the other and any reasonable boundaries.

If handled well, there is still plenty of scope for resolution within most conflicts and all ends happily. However, if emotions such as anger are high, this can lead to aggressive behaviour which, if it is directed at a person, is violence. Violence is the direction of aggression, either verbally or physically. It is the intentional infliction of pain, whether physical, emotional or mental.



What annoys or angers you may not affect someone else in the same way or even at all, and vice versa.

Until anger enters the situation, there is usually little chance of violence. Most aggression starts with an anger trigger, or more than one. An anger trigger is something that angers or annoys us: for example, maybe you get to work and someone has parked in your parking space.

A simple way of discerning whether or not something may be an anger trigger is to evaluate it in an empathetic manner, using these three categories:

  1. Transgressions
  2. Irritants
  3. Costs.

Imagine you have bought an expensive first-class train ticket to London or Edinburgh, and you settle down to deal with some vital paperwork for your upcoming sales meeting. During the journey, another passenger enters the Quiet Zone carriage in which you are sitting and starts to use their mobile phone loudly. You also notice that this passenger does not have a first-class ticket.

This example embodies all three categories: first of all it is a transgression, as the passenger should not be in a first-class carriage without a first-class ticket. It’s irritating because you have paid much more to be there and they are using their mobile phone in a way that is annoying and disruptive to your work. There is also a cost to you in terms of not being able to concentrate on your important pre-meeting notes: you could lose the sale.


Key point

You cannot judge the aggression inhibition of another by your own standards.

Aggression and our impulse to lose our temper are controlled by something we call inhibition. Inhibition is made up of the fear of repercussions and consequences, how we have been brought up, and social and cultural norms. It is inhibition that keeps us functioning within the cultural norms of society. When our anger stacks up higher than our inhibition, the inner conflict that we feel spills over into anger-induced action, whether it be hitting a punch-bag or hurling verbal or physical abuse at someone.

People have different levels of inhibition, and on top of this it is affected by outside variables.

Inhibition can be affected daily by many factors, such as

  • Illness
  • Alcohol
  • Mental illness or personality disorder
  • Being tired
  • Environment
  • Withdrawal symptoms (from smoking, for example)
  • Stress or drugs (not necessarily illegal drugs – prescription drugs may also affect inhibition).

When people are exposed to an anger trigger, they evaluate the situation; if they do not evaluate it favourably, then it becomes an anger stamp:

Eventually, when enough anger stamps have built up, the anger becomes equal to the inhibition.

This is generally the point at which you are likely to hear something along the lines of ‘I’ve had it up to here!’:

If people accumulate more anger stamps than their inhibition can handle, the growing anger they are feeling then spills over into verbal aggression, physical aggression and, in a worst-case scenario, violence: