Taking a Stand

Written by Debbie Epstein, Diversity & Inclusion Manager 

One way to help create a culture where everyone has a common understanding of the standards of appropriate behaviour and behaviour that will not be tolerated, is to become an active bystander.  An active bystander is someone who observes unacceptable behaviour and takes steps to make a difference.  They assess the situation, decide what kind of help, if any might be appropriate, evaluate options and choose a strategy for responding.

This type of action sends a strong signal of solidarity to the person who is on the receiving end of the behaviour, and indicates to both parties, and any witnesses, what you consider to be acceptable conduct.  The behavioural norms can shift, if a core number of people have a common understanding of what is acceptable, as the group effect means any outliers will be discouraged from stepping outside these established norms.  Research, mainly conducted in the US, shows that where comprehensive active bystander training and interventions have been put in place, to help reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and violence on campus amongst students, these have been effective.

So how can we be active bystanders and stand up to inappropriate behaviour that we and others experience?

Key steps to take when assessing potential situations:

  • Is the behaviour unacceptable, does it have the ability to cause offense, make someone feel uncomfortable, awkward or humiliated?
  • Can you play a role?  What are you hoping to achieve, is someone else better placed to step in?
  • What are your options?  See below for some suggestions
  • What are the risks to you and others?  Are they worth taking, how could they be reduced?
  • Should you act, and if so now or later?

Active bystander strategies

Below are some suggested approaches, but there will be others.  It’s important not to put yourself or others at risk through the action you take, so use your judgment and common sense and take advice if needed.  You can find more about each of these strategies here.

Strategies in the Moment:

  • Name or acknowledge an offense
  • Point to the “elephant in the room”
  • Interrupt the behaviour
  • Publicly support an aggrieved person
  • Use body language to show disapproval
  • Use humour (with care)
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Help calm strong feelings
  • Call for help

Strategies after the Fact: 

  • Privately support an upset person
  • Talk privately with the party who has committed the act

King’s Diversity & Inclusion Team has started to adopt the active bystander approach in training that is offered to students, and from September 2017 all students will be encourage to participate in an on-line module which includes a focus on active bystander strategies.  Work is currently being undertaken to assess how to make consistent the reporting, support, policies and practices covering bullying and harassment for staff and students, so that provision builds on the already successful and nationally recognised It Stops Here Campaign.

Content for this posting was taken from here.

Further reading:


A Review of Evidence for Bystander Intervention

Challenging Bullying at work

Written by Dr Amy Birch

Bullying can affect staff at every level of institution and from all backgrounds. It involves a misuse of power, and is often perpetrated by managers against staff over whom they have power. There is no statutory definition of bullying, but is defined by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service as behaviour that:

  • Is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
  • Is an abuse of power,
  • Uses means intended to undermine humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

The higher education environment encourages discussion, debate and critical appraisal. However, this may lead to a situation where behaviours that undermine individuals are more easily justified, whether consciously or unconsciously. Competition within academia, not least the “publish or perish” mentality, and increased workloads may also lead to a culture that masks bullying and aggressive behaviours as affective tactics as high internal competition. However, being aware of these behaviours and feeling confident to challenge them can help to educate all staff that this is not tolerated.

How can you beat bullying at work? Below are some tips of what to do if you face bullying at work:

  • First, don’t blame yourself and do not ignore it – this will only make you feel worse.
  • Keep a record of all events; along with all evidence of negative acts (e.g. email/written correspondence) and any witnesses – if you have a work diary, it is helpful to write specific instances on the days that they happened.
  • Keep a record of how the events are affecting you – how does it make you feel? How does it affect your mental, physical, and emotional health? Does it have any impact on your family/social life?
  • Seek an informal resolution early, where possible – sometimes it is possible to ask the perpetrator to stop. They may not recognise that their behaviours are inappropriate and this may provide a quick and effective resolution. It may be helpful to write down what behaviours you find offensive (avoiding emotive and general comments about the person), what effect they have on you and how you would like this behaviour to change. If appropriate, take a friend or union representative with you but it is advisable to let all parties know that you are going to do this in advance.
  • Discuss your situation with your support network within and outside work:
    • Talk with your local HR advisors, staff representatives, or diversity and inclusion champion
    • Contact the Employee Assistance Programme; this is a service that provides independent, free, confidential advice and guidance on a range of practical issues for staff on both home and work concerns. This service is paid for by King’s College London and is free to all employees.
    • If you are a member of a union, seek advice from a college representative. There will be formal and informal procedures for dealing with the situation. The decision on how to progress rests fully on you; however, it is important that the union is aware of any incidents involving their members.
    • Support is also available from charitable organisations: Mind can offer support via phone (03001233393) and email (info@mind.org.uk). Samaritans are available to talk 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling 116123 on any phone.