What to do if you witness harassment at work.


The words From Bystander to Ally: The 5 D's of Bystander Intervention with blue and green accents on the side.

In any given situation involving harassment, bullying, or discrimination, there is a multitude of ways to respond or react. As a bystander, you have the power to create real-deal change. The 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention can help you navigate the best approach for the situation.



Direct – Use words or actions to stop what is going on.

Call out the harassment directly when you see or hear it. This can be as simple as saying something like, “That’s not funny,” “Hey, c’mon,” “That’s not appropriate” or even a simple “Really?” Remember to be confident, assertive, and calm as you intervene.


Calling out behavior in the moment may not be the best course of action or feel like the appropriate thing to do. Following up with the person and having a candid conversation about what they said or did can help you find out more about the situation and it allows you an opportunity to discuss why the behavior was inappropriate. During this conversation, make sure to check for understanding, allow the person to share their perspective, and give support on how they can make positive changes moving forward.


Here are some ways to start the conversation:

- I feel obligated as your peer to tell you that your comment wasn’t okay.

- It sounded like you said ______________. Is that really what you meant?

- When you said _____________ it made me feel _________________.



Distract – Interrupt the interaction.

This is the most creative and easy to utilize intervention styles. As a bystander, find a way to disrupt the situation. Some examples of how to do this are steering the conversation to another topic, asking the harasser a question that is unrelated to the situation or making a loud noise.


Distraction is a powerful tool to matter what type of harassment, bullying, or discrimination is happening. It can be extremely helpful when you need to do something immediately but are unsure what to say or don’t have time to find someone to delegate the situation too.



Delegate – Ask someone else to help.

Finding someone else that is more equipped to handle the situation, such as a leader in your organization, can help with a resolution. The delegate intervention can be a powerful tool when a situation has escalated and there is a need for an authority figure to intervene.


It can also be helpful when we may not know the person well enough to utilize the direct approach. Finding a colleague or peer that has a better relationship with the person, and is willing to have a conversation with them, is another impactful way to intervene.



Delay – Check-in after the interaction.

You can always take action after a situation has occurred. Checking in with the person after an interaction, to see how they are feeling, is a great way to be a bystander. It shows that they are not alone in the situation, that they have an ally (that’s you!), and that they have a support system.


After the situation, ask if they are okay if there is anything you can do, and if they would like to report the behavior. Tell them that you’re willing to help them report the incident, that you’ll provide a written statement if they need or want one, and that you’re here for them to help figure out the next steps.


If the person decides to not report the situation immediately, follow-up with them a few days later. Offer up your support and reiterate that you are here for them. When we experience harassment, bullying, and discrimination we can respond with denial, self-blame, confusion, and shock. It’s important as a bystander, that we allow the person to process what has happened to them. Following-up and offering support are some of the most impactful ways that you can show up as an ally.



Document – Keep a record of what you observe.

It’s important to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and document what you witnessed. Make sure to record the name of those involved in the situation, the date or dates that the behavior occurred, the time, the location of the occurrence, a description of the behavior, and details of what happened. Remember to be as specific as possible. Documenting the words that were said or the actions that were taken in detail.


Providing this information to a victim can be very useful when they decide to report. Your documentation can also be useful for reporting ongoing harassing behaviors throughout your department, team, or organization. As a witness to various situations, your documentation can valuable when others report the behavior.



Bonus: Do something - Take action, any action.

The worst thing that we can do as a bystander is to simply stand by. Choose the intervention that works best for the situation, the people involved, and yourself, and then take action!


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