The Bystander Effect: How to React If You See Someone Being Harassed

Author: Michelle Russell       

Convene talked to six business-event professionals about the “bystander effect” — the tendency for people not to take action when they see a wrong taking place — and how organizations can counteract it.

According to a Harvard Business Review article cited in the story, bystander training involves four steps:

  1. Make observers aware of the problem so they can identify it when they see it.
  2. Teach observers that help should always be given.
  3. Increase accountability of the observer so they know that they are responsible to help.
  4. Inform observers of the process for intervening.

There are additional training resources for the fourth step, know as bystander intervention training. Hollaback!, a grassroots movement to end harassment, has developed the “Five Ds” — tools to help witnesses intervene when they see harassment happen. While formulated to address harassment in public spaces, the tactics may also be useful in workplace situations:

  1. Respond directly by naming what is happening or confronting the harasser. This can be risky, and people are advised to assess the situation so that stepping in doesn’t make things worse or put their own — or others’ — safety at risk.
  2. Use distraction. Derail the incident by interrupting it and engage directly with the person being targeted about something unrelated, without alluding to the harassment.
  3. Delegate by asking for help from a third party.
  4. If you can’t act in the moment, delay your response and check in with the person who was being harassed after the fact.
  5. Document the incident, if it is safe to do so.

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