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What can businesses learn from incidents of random violence?

Dan Timberlake

Dan Timberlake

Highly publicized events like the shootings in Tuscan, Ariz. earlier this year can create an uneasiness in observers and might cause business owners to wonder if they should take notice and do something more to ensure the safety of their own workplaces.

There is good news.

Your workplace is probably safer than the news coverage would lead you to believe. However, there may be something that businesses can gain through a better understanding of those who perform such acts of violence.

First, understand there is not an epidemic of violence in the United States. In fact, according to the FBI, violent crime in America has been decreasing since 2007 after a slight bump in 2006. For example, 2009 crime statistics show that: Los Angeles reported the lowest incidence of violent crime in the last half-century; San Francisco reported the lowest number of killings since 1961; Washington, D.C. reported the lowest number of homicides since 1966; New York, Chicago, Boston and Dallas all reported significant year-over-year declines in 2009.

Violent crime on college campuses is even down 50 percent over the last decade. The most accurate conclusion to draw about the current safety of our communities is that they are about as safe as they have historically been and may actually be a little safer.

As it should, however, the FBI has invested large amounts of time and money to learn about what causes someone to act out so violently. Though they have identified several behaviors common to those who have coldly acted out public violence, the most defining characteristic seems to be that these people are “injustice collectors.” In other words, they almost all feel that their lives have been defined by unjust treatment by others, and eventually they choose a target and they retaliate.

Almost anybody can relate to a time when they felt unjustly treated. Most of us, however, simply respond by avoiding the individual or organization that treated us poorly. If it is possible to learn something of value from a person who resorted to inflicting massive violence, it might lie in a reminder of the power of how we routinely interact with people.

If an observer were to stand back and watch as you went through your week, would they conclude that you operate on the basis that you are only interested in others when there is something in it for you, or do you remain interested in helping others be successful even after you have recognized that they don’t need what you are selling?

Not only can focusing on helping others help you avoid setting off difficult people, but it has the capacity to differentiate you from the rest of the crowd.

Most people I talk to these days describe being busier than ever. Stephen Covey has described busy workdays as ruled by a “tyranny of the urgent.” In other words, he says that many people feel like there is only enough time to focus on the things that are urgent. If you look more closely, you may even discover that some of the urgent tasks you’ve focused on were not all that important in the big picture.

If that describes you, then you are vulnerable to (and most of us are) neglecting the things that are not urgent, but are important. One of those things is taking the time to form strong relationships, and that does not always win the battle to get our attention. However, when someone does stop to ask us questions, listens, and tries to help us be successful, it is powerful, it is unusual, and we remember.

Strong relationships are characterized by not just being based on whether the other person is buying what we are selling. Long-term success in business isn’t created by just not treating people unjustly; most businesses manage to do that. When you actually are interested in others’ success and not just your own, they can feel it. It builds trust and it distinguishes you from much of your competition. This is not only a potential competitive advantage, it is a competitive advantage that is not easy to replicate. Most people are aware that strong relationships are powerful in business, but not everybody does it well.

When it doesn’t happen, it isn’t because people didn’t know it was important or even because they haven’t completely bought into the idea. It tends to happen for one of two reasons: because they don’t know how to build strong relationships or because they get busy, distracted, stressed, or they simply get tired. Investing in people isn’t rocket science, but sometimes the simple things can be very powerful.

This column was written by Daniel Timberlake, Ph.D., MBA, director of Counseling Services at Boise State University. He can be reached at (208) 426-1603.

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  1. Thansk for posting this. I found it pretty helpful. I will be checking back soon for updates.

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