From our partner Toni Ahl at EEO Advantage
When we discuss harassment, I think we often overlook an area that could help alleviate it when it is occurring. Bystander intervention can help diffuse a situation as it unfolds. Perhaps we should be training our employees how to step in when they see or hear something that sounds or appears to be inappropriate or harassing behavior. I believe more employees would be willing to step in to help if they had some tools to use. We often train employees about unacceptable or harassing behavior but do not furnish them with any best practices to stop it other than reporting it. Of course, we still want employees to report inappropriate and/or harassing behavior, but there are things that can be done immediately to stop the behavior before it rises to the level of harassment. Let’s examine some of the actions that anyone can use to diffuse a situation and render assistance.
The first way a bystander can help is to step in. I think many of us are reluctant because we don’t think we have the tools to help. When a person decides to intervene, they don’t have to say, “Stop that. You are behaving badly.” The purpose of stepping in is to object to the behavior, but in a less confrontational way. Here are some examples of statements that may be used:
“Hey, that’s not cool.” or “I’m not okay with that.”;
“It looks like you’re making him/her uncomfortable.”;
“I know you think that joke is funny, but it makes me feel uncomfortable.” or “Why is that funny?”;
“Are you okay? Can I help in any way?”; and
“It’s against our policies to use company phones for personal calls or to harass someone.”
The second method for intervening is to get help. All circumstances must be considered when looking at alternatives. Timing of the event can affect what action might be taken. The size of the organization must also be taken into account. Not all of the suggestions listed will be available in all companies. Some of the ways to seek help are:
Get another co-worker and intervene together;
Ask someone who knows them better to intervene;
Ask their supervisor to say something;
Notify HR to check in on them; and
The third way to intervene is to wait until later. Many employees are reluctant to get involved when an event is actually taking place. After all, it is not their problem. In reality, if certain behaviors are not stopped, they become everyone’s problems. If you have ever witnessed someone being bullied or harassed, it is very daunting. Waiting until later may let the situation diffuse a bit and the alleged victim may be more willing to try to resolve the situation. Here are some things employees who wait until later to say:
“I noticed that you seemed really upset when Joseph showed you that picture. Do you want to talk about it?”;
“This morning Andrea seemed pretty uncomfortable when you were trying to give her a massage. Did you notice that too?”; and
“Hey, it’s possible that someone on our team may have been sexually assaulted in the past. Jokes like that could make them feel anxious or unwelcome at work.”
Or, if the intervening person does not feel comfortable saying anything, he/she could leave the person a note or text them later.
We need to remember a few things. The more we practice active bystander intervention, the more normal it becomes. And, over time, fewer people will be harmed and we’ll change the norms of how we interact with and look out for each other. With training and practice, ending harassment is possible.
Remember, if you don’t say something, you are saying the behavior is okay. Silence in this situation is not golden.
If you would like more information about harassment or bystander intervention, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 553-7648.