March 22, 2022

Bystander intervention training is one of the key elements in fostering a speak-up culture, where employees who witness harassment and other inappropriate workplace conduct are empowered to help stop it and prevent future incidents by speaking up and taking action.

The term bystander intervention refers to situations where someone who isn’t directly involved steps in to assist someone who may be at risk. When these active bystanders have the right knowledge and tools they can defuse potentially harmful situations and show support for marginalized co-workers who are targets of bias, microaggressions and other non-inclusive behaviors.

Knowledge is key — bystanders who see inappropriate behavior will be more likely to act if they know how to respond. And that’s where bystander intervention training makes a difference. Training provides practical information, tools and motivation that enable employees to effectively (and safely) intervene, while supporting the organization’s 
diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, too. 

What are common bystander intervention techniques?

Some common ways that bystanders can put a stop to inappropriate behavior is through disrupting, confronting, supporting and reporting — actions that employees can take whether they are working in-person or remotely. Regardless of where the misconduct occurs, bystanders should always exercise caution and common sense.  

Disrupt the situation

This technique focuses on disrupting the situation by distracting the harasser, the target of the harassment or both, depending upon the circumstances. Sometimes, all it takes is changing the subject or starting a conversation with the person being harassed.

Confront the offender

Confronting the harasser doesn’t mean being confrontational or jumping in to say something in the heat of the moment. Confronting a harasser safely involves gauging whether to take action immediately or later. The idea is that if harassers believe others will step in and tell them their behavior is not acceptable, they may be less likely to engage in misconduct.

Support the target

Showing support and empathy for a target of harassment is an opportunity for employees to be allies. Talking directly with someone after an incident, offering to go with them to human resources or reassuring them it is not their fault can help alleviate the sense of isolation they may feel.

Report the incident

Reporting misconduct is key to preventing it in the future, and bystanders (as well as all employees) need to be familiar with the organization’s procedures and options for reporting incidents, whether that involves talking with a supervisor or HR manager or using an anonymous hotline or app. Even if a bystander doesn’t report an incident immediately after it occurs, they can still show support by reporting it later. And organizations should reinforce the message that people who speak up and report misconduct are protected against retaliation.

Traliant Insight

Workplace experts agree that bystander intervention training plays a key role in fostering a safe, respectful, inclusive workplace in which employees can effectively intervene to stop bad behavior and prevent future incidents.