Bystander Strategies

During an Incident:

Name or Acknowledge an Offense

Name or identify inappropriate behavior so it isn't just glossed over or ignored.  Create an opening for discussion.

Direct feedback in the moment may be perceived as disruptive or inappropriate, depending on the forum. Waiting may be more effective in some cases. Highlight the damaging effect of the offense, while avoiding inflammatory language or judgments.

Point to the "elephant in the room"

Surface a concern that is festering, to prevent escalation into harmful conflict.

Listen to both sides without judging. When raising a concern about someone's actions, choose non-confrontational language, so that the person does not get defensive and can engage in the discussion.

Interrupt the behavior

Protect someone from being hurt or offended and someone else from giving offense or harm. 

Make it clear that such behavior is not acceptable in this community.

Intervention may be direct and obvious, such as stating directly to the offending person that the behavior is unacceptable, or may be via subterfuge, such as interrupting an argument to ask for directions.

Publicly support an aggrieved person

Help someone who has been hurt or offended, and/or prevent further injury or offense.

Uphold a community norm or value, making it clear to all that others in the community do not condone such behavior.

Consider the risks of taking sides. Sometimes the need to prevent further harm immediately outweighs the potential for retaliation against either you or the aggrieved person by the offending person, but sometimes it does not, making a private word with the aggrieved person and/or the offending person later a preferable course of action.

Use body language to show disapproval

Communicate that the behavior is unacceptable without embarrassing the offending person, save face.

Minimize the risk to yourself, keeping your reaction as non-threatening as possible.

Remember, you don't have to speak to communicate.

Sometimes a disapproving look can be far more powerful than words.

Use humor (with care)

Minimize the sting of your disapproval. Phrase your concern in a way that the offending person will be able to hear it without getting defensive.

Reduces the tension of an intervention and makes it easier for the person to hear you.

Do not undermine what you say with too much humor. Funny doesn't mean unimportant.

Encourage dialogue

Tension between people may be due to misunderstanding each other's beliefs, motives, or intent. Open dialogue may eliminate the misunderstanding.

Help Calm Strong Feelings

Prevent escalation and potential violence.
Enable an upset person to take a rational view of the situation.

Explicitly acknowledge the emotion the upset person is feeling. Realizing that you understand what s/he is feeling will help the person put that strong feeling to one side and look less emotionally at the situation


Ask what the person means when they say that word or phrase or perform that action. Allows you to find out intent.  May just be a miscommunication. Helps in knowing how to address.

Communicate with Others

There is safety and power in numbers.

Divide and conquer

Sometimes it's just a matter of getting two people separated. One person engage one of the people involved, someone else engage the other.  Take one of them by the arm and lead away saying "I just need him/her for a bit."

Act dumb

"Hey, what's going on here?" "I thought the party was down here."  Tone is one of confusion rather than judgment.


Change the subject, direct attention somewhere else.

Sound Incredulous

Really?? Come on...

Words that indicate you can't believe what has been said or done.

Bring it Home

 Prevents someone from distancing himself from the impact of his actions.

   Example: "I hope no one ever talks about you like that."

Prevents someone from dehumanizing his targets.

   Example: What if someone said your girlfriend deserved to be raped or called your mother a whore?"

We're friends, right....?

Reframes the intervention as caring and non-critical.


Snaps someone out of their "sexist comfort zone."

     Example: Ask a man harassing a woman on the street for directions or the time.

Allows a potential target to move away and/or to have other friends intervene.

     Example: Spill your drink on the person or interrupt and start a conversation with the person.

Call for help

See that the situation is handled by those best able to cope.

Make sure that something is done, while acknowledging that you do not have the skill or capacity to handle it.

For this to work in the moment, you need the ability to summon help immediately, such as a cell phone, and will likely have to do what you can to keep the situation from deteriorating until help arrives. Seeking help after the fact is the same as reporting the incident.


Privately support an aggrieved person

Help someone who has been hurt or offended, and/or prevent further injury or offense.

Listen supportively. Provide information about resources available to the aggrieved person.

If the unacceptable behavior is on-going, the principal concern may be to help the aggrieved person develop a long-term resolution.

Talk privately with the inappropriate actor

Give clear feedback and express your opinion in a way that allows the inappropriate actor to save face.

This strategy clearly has risks if the person is of higher status or has power over you in some way. Whether or not the person "gets it" probably depends a lot on your relationship and the level of trust/credibility with the person receiving your feedback.

An important part of getting your message heard is to allow the recipient of your feedback the opportunity to save face, and explain him or herself.

Report the incident, with or without names

Get help for someone better placed to intervene

Make people responsible for this class, department, residence, office, etc. aware of what is going on.