Have you witnessed hostile, intimidating, or threatening behavior?
Bystanders have an important role to play in improving the learning and working conditions at the University. If you are able to “speak up,” there can be many benefits from your actions.
If you are in a position of leadership or an opinion leader in your group, others may look to you for guidance on how to respond. You have a responsibility to ensure a positive environment for students and employees.
Toxic Behavior can be very destructive and cause harm if allowed to continue unchecked. Active bystanders can participate directly and indirectly to address this problem.
When you observe shouting, belittling, or threatening conversations on campus, please consider taking action. Ask yourself:
What is my role?
Who is in a good position to help me address this problem?
Who can I trust to advise or help me with this situation?
How can I take action without making matters worse?
What do I hope to accomplish?
If I observe a conversation that includes shouting, belittling, or threatening comments, what can I do? You might try ignoring the argument, and joining the conversation. Try to shift the focus to a neutral topic, distract the parties, and diffuse the situation by saying something like:
Are either of you planning on going to the seminar this afternoon?
Have either of you seen ______? I’ve been looking for them all morning.
Or you may choose to acknowledge that you have overheard the conversation by reflecting back to the parties:
I see that you are having a discussion…
Excuse me if I am interrupting a private conversation, I overheard…
What I just heard makes me feel uncomfortable…
These statements may alert the parties to your presence in a non-‐threatening way. Depending on the response, you may wish to add:
I was just going to grab a coffee. Would either of you like to join me?
Is there anything I can do to be helpful?
In extreme cases, the discussion may escalate to a level where you (as a bystander) are uncomfortable and believe someone’s safety is at risk. In these cases, you may inform the parties you are uncomfortable with what is happening. You are leaving to get immediate help and you will return shortly.
Afterwards, you may wish to talk with one or both of the parties. Some of the issues you may focus on are:
Here is what I observed.
Here is how it made me feel.
How can we work together to address this problem?
These examples may help you begin a conversation with one of the people in the argument you witnessed:
I came into the room when you were talking with , and the conversation made me feel pretty uncomfortable.
How did you feel about that?
What are some resources and options for us in trying to address the problem?
Are you interested in taking some action to address these concerns?
The Office for Conflict Resolution addresses employment conflicts. It is a neutral and independent office where faculty and staff can raise concerns. Consultations are confidential (with a few exceptions). Student workers (including research and teaching assistants) are eligible to use the services of OCR.