3 Self-Defense Tips for the Workplace

Recognize the warning signs and react quickly with these self-defense tips before a violent attack takes over your office.
Self-defense tips for workplace assault.
Stop workplace assault with these self-defense tips.|Photo by iStock

Time starts now. You are suddenly confronted with a violent customer standing 6 feet in front of you. Red-faced and shouting, he is pointing his finger at you as he clenches his other fist. What do you do?

Or, you are working in your office cubicle when you hear shouting, screaming and gunfire from the reception area. What should you do?

Self-defense is not just about guns, knives or pepper spray. It is largely about the mental aspects of winning out against violence. It is about changing your mindset and lifestyle, and focusing solely on the defense of yourself and your loved ones. To do this, you must accept that the threat exists, learn how to identify potentially violent subjects before the attack occurs, and how to defend yourself.


Contrary to the old saying, barking dogs really do bite. The best indicator of violent behavior is past violent behavior. Any threat of violence by a subject with a history of violence or instability must be taken seriously. Threats of personal violence by clients, customers or staff must be reported and communicated to other staff members. Further, threats should be reported to the police. Police love to prevent crime prior to violent incidents instead of just responding to another assault and making a report. Oftentimes, this reporting process may include referral to a local prosecutor’s office on issues of criminal trespassing. Property and business owners must get ahead of this process to protect employees. If the threats are serious, do not allow the subject onto your premises. Do business by phone if absolutely necessary but otherwise forbid the person from entering onto your premises.


Read the person’s body language and verbal communication. Prior to an attack, subjects lose control first through their voice—volume, pitch, tenor change and incoherent statements as well as the use of profanity—and then physically, including face flushes, protruding veins in the head and neck, pacing, fist clenching and pointing. Subjects readying themselves for attack may cease all movement, get into some type of “fighter stance,” raise their hands in a boxer-type stance and look around for coworkers, cameras, etc. Letting a subject within 6 feet gives the person the ability to assault you before you can react and respond.


Distance is your friend. Increasing the space between you and the subject is vital. If possible, design your work area to allow for multiple escape routes. Some workplaces allow for the carrying of firearms, pepper spray or electronic control devices. Some don’t. If your employer or workplace prevents such self-defense tools, improvised devices and implements (office stationery, furniture, etc.) can be used to strike back.

Bunkering and ensconcing is a valid concept if possible. Keep in mind that suspects in workplace shootings desire the maximum body count. Retreating to a “safe room” and bunkering is a valid self-defense strategy. Most assaults and workplace shootings are quick and violent. Making plans now reduces the need to improvise in an emergency. Do not be an easy victim. Look for potentially dangerous staff, customers and clients. Get the police involved against specific threats. Recognize developing violent behavior. Think about how to evade an attacker, shelter in place and respond with self-defense or improvised tools or weapons if necessary to protect yourself.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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