Why Curiosity is Key to Assessing Threats of Violence

Josh Hay

I recently attended a conference related to violence and the assessment of potential for violence. I have attended many of these types of conferences over the years and have found a common theme presented to be the subtle and sometimes not so subtle punitive response to those who utter threats or are viewed as a potential to escalate towards violence.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear a speaker aptly describe that the outcome of threat assessment and intervention is often better served by using a more restorative response. While all threats should be taken very seriously, we also know that most people who utter threats never follow through on their threats. When we engage these individuals with a punitive response we may risk further isolating the individual and indirectly encourage escalation.

While not always possible or appropriate, engagement with the person of concern is the best way to assess the likelihood of violence. Engaging this person with a curious set of questions versus a judgmental line of questions may look like this:

“I’m curious, as to what you meant when you said/wrote…”
“I’d like to know more about you thoughts related to…”


In reality, attention to the type of questioning is only one element of curiosity. The interviewer’s body language and tone play an important role in setting a restorative approach versus a punitive approach.

The assessment of potential for violence is extremely challenging and in no way is this brief review meant to simplify the issue. The challenge in threat assessment is to be proactive without being overly reactive. Approaching individuals with curiosity is one of many important considerations involved in threat assessment.

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The Author

Randy Grieser is the founder and CEO of ACHIEVE and author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Ordinary Leader: 10 Key Insights for Building and Leading a Thriving Organization. He is also a co-author of The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. Both books are available on our website.

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