Building Active Bystanders

During Anti-Bullying Week we are thinking about the important role of active bystanders and how organisations can nurture a work environment that is respectful to everyone. Workplace bullying is a critical issue that affects employees’ well-being, performance, and job satisfaction. It can manifest as verbal abuse, humiliation, intimidation, or exclusion, and it often involves a repeated and deliberate effort to undermine or harm a colleague’s self-esteem and well-being. Bullying can also be subtle and difficult to detect, sometimes referred to as micro-aggressions. Recognising these problematic behaviours is the first step in combating workplace bullying, but what should happen next? 

Encouraging a culture of respect and inclusivity in the workplace through your L&D efforts will make a big impact. Emphasise the importance of treating colleagues with dignity and fostering positive working relationships. This toolkit from the United Nations offers advice and suggestions for fostering dignity and respect in the workplace.

Of course, leading by example is one of the most impactful ways to create a culture of respect and empower allyship. This TED talk from Simon Sinek, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe” discusses this in depth. 

For those working in L&D, we can equip leaders with the skills to promote a respectful workplace culture and lead by example by offering targeted experiential learning that supports leaders to be able to recognise, prevent and tackle workplace bullying. Often, participants need to be given practical opportunities to develop their confidence and communication in this area. Such programs might include forum theatre, semi-scripted scenes, skills practice and facilitated debate – all of which can help participants to notice, interpret, describe and challenge behaviour that is problematic. Sessions aim to help participants feel empowered to take action, and equip them with the communication skills necessary to do so successfully. 

It’s also really important to embed the messages about the respect and allyship across the organisation’s entire L&D offering, and in connection with the work we do on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The Five Ds

You may have heard of the “5 Ds” of active bystander intervention.  They are a set of principles that guide individuals on how to respond effectively when they witness problematic or harmful behaviour. These principles encourage taking action to prevent or address issues in various situations, including bullying, harassment, discrimination, and more. The 5 Ds are:

Direct: Confront the situation or behaviour directly. This involves addressing the issue by talking to the person involved, expressing concerns, and letting them know that their behaviour is unacceptable.

Distract: If confronting the situation directly is not feasible or safe, distraction techniques can be used to redirect the focus. This might involve changing the subject, engaging the person causing harm in a different conversation, or diverting the attention away from the problematic behaviour. Distracting can be especially useful in de-escalating tense situations.

Delegate: When the situation requires professional intervention or authority figures, delegating the responsibility to the relevant individuals or organisations and ensuring they are made aware of the situation.

Delay: Delaying can be a strategic choice when addressing the issue directly or delegating isn’t currently feasible. This might involve taking time to gather more information or waiting for the right moment to address the situation. 

Document: Finally, documenting incidents is essential for providing evidence if necessary.

The 5 Ds offer a flexible framework for individuals to determine the most appropriate response to a given situation, taking into consideration their safety, the context, and the nature of the behaviour they are witnessing. These principles empower individuals to be active bystanders and contribute to creating more inclusive, respectful, and safer environments.  

Full details on the employers responsibilities on workplace bullying and harassment can be found here.  We’d be happy to discuss programs designed to empower your employees with the skills required to deal confidently with bullying and harassment and promote a respectful workplace.  Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

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