Verbal Aggression

Verbal aggression is message behavior which attacks a person\'s self-concept in order to deliver psychological pain.(Infante, 1995) Studies of verbal aggression have focused primarily on children and adolescents in educational and social settings. Very few studies were found to examine verbal aggression in adults in the workplace.(Ebbesen, Duncan, Konecni, 1974) The consequences of verbal aggression in the workplace can lead to social isolation, job related stress, health related problems, as well as problems in career advancement. It therefore should be considered important, for the individual and management, to identify and address the causes of verbal aggression. This program attempts to understand verbal aggression by 1) identifying the various functions of verbal aggression. 2) identifying the antecedent conditions of verbal aggression. 3) Avoiding the antecedent conditions of verbal aggression. Method Subject The subject, Shirley J., is a 49 year old African American female. Shirley J. has several advanced degrees and is employed as a school psychologist in a metropolitan school district. She is married with two adult children. The subject readily agreed that the target behavior, verbal aggression, is a problem as it interferes with her relationships with others. She was enthusiastic in her desire to reduce, if not eliminate, this behavior. It would seem that self-monitoring for verbal aggression and antecedent control would be valuable as it would allow for consistent avoidance of verbal aggression. As a school psychologist the subject was very familiar with the basic principles of applied behavioral analysis and frequently offered programmatic suggestions. A behavioral contract was developed jointly between the therapist and subject. The contract outlined the target behavior, success criteria, and individual responsibilities of the therapist and subject. (see Appendix A) Apparatus A basic checklist was used to document the frequency of verbal aggression on a daily basis. The checklist was designed to track only the occurrence of the behavior. It was felt by the therapist that the content of the verbally aggressive message would be too open for subjective interpretation and that no meaningful data would be gained from such documentation. In addition the subject made frequent comments of significant success or failure in avoiding verbal aggression for discussion with the therapist. The weekly discussions were used to evaluate the appropriateness of the procedures used and make any necessary adjustments to the program. Procedure For the first two weeks of the program no intervention was applied. Given that the subject self-reported that verbal aggression was a problem it was important to determine if the frequency of the behavior merited intervention. Therefore, the subject documented the daily frequency of verbal aggression. The results of the baseline period revealed a high rate of verbal aggression. (see Appendix B) Given the results of the baseline data as well as the demanding, often stressful, nature of the subjects job, it was mutually agreed that reducing verbal aggression would be the focus of the program. Verbal aggression was defined as cursing, yelling, and screaming at others. The agreed upon goals of the program was to decrease verbal aggression by 75% of baseline for four consecutive weeks. Treatment would consist of identifying and avoiding the antecedent conditions to verbal aggression. Avoidance of the antecedents is considered less restrictive, more proactive, and most effective. During the initial consultation it was determined that the antecedent conditions included, but was not limited to: work stress, time of day, verbal behavior of others (ie. tone of voice, inflection of voice and content of conversation, etc.), and non- verbal behavior of others (ie. facial expression, body posture, eye contact, etc.). In addition, the subject was required to self monitor for the following antecedents: clenched fists, tight jaw, rapid heart beat, and the emotions of anger, frustration and disappointment. Lastly, it was suggested by Infante (1995) that appropriate strategy must be taken to prevent verbal aggression from escalating. Successful avoidance of the antecedent conditions consisted of removing oneself from stressful situations, when possible, as well as not responding verbally when provoked. Weekly consultation revealed that verbal aggression was most often used to: 1) Escape demand situations. 2) Avoid demand situations. 3) Relieve job stress. The subject was to document the frequency of verbal aggression and record the circumstances of significant success or failure during the work week for discussion at weekly consultation sessions. A schedule