We all agree that bullying is unpleasant and unnecessary, and that it should never happen.
But somehow, when we see bullying happening to someone else, we may be reluctant to intervene for fear of getting ourselves into trouble or perhaps making things worse.
This page provides some advice for how and when to get involved when someone else is being bullied, and how you can help without making things worse.
A Philosophical Thought
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
If you take Edmund Burke’s words to heart, then we all have a duty to confront bullying when we see it.
So why is it so hard to intervene? You may be thinking:
- “What if he/she is actually OK?”
- “What if it makes it worse?”
- “What if the bully turns on me next?”
All these are possible. But that still does not absolve you of the need to get involved and try to help in some way.
Helping Someone You Know Who is Being Bullied
If you see someone you know being bullied, perhaps a friend, child or colleague, you have several options:
- Depending on your level of confidence, you may be able to intervene straight away, saying, for example, ‘I don’t think that’s an acceptable way to talk to anyone. Would you like to reconsider how you phrase that?’ This is likely to work better with adults, who may well not be conscious of the way they are speaking or how it is likely to be perceived.
- You may be able to talk to the bully later and tell them that you thought their behaviour was out of order. Again, this is likely to work better with adults who may be unconscious of how their behaviour could be interpreted, but there is no reason to suppose it would not work with younger people.
- You can talk to the person being bullied later to see if they are OK and offer to help them by, for example, going with them to tell someone else, and backing up their story as a witness. Often, just having someone speak to them may be enough to persuade them that they should tell someone else and telling somebody else is always a positive step.
- You can involve them in your group and make them less of a target, helping to ensure that they are not left alone where the bully can find them.
- You can tell a trusted adult or colleague what is going on, in confidence. If the person concerned is an adult, you can, for example, speak to the HR department in your workplace and ask them for advice. If a child, you can speak to your parents or theirs, or a teacher or youth worker.
See our page: Helping Someone to Cope with Bullying for more information.
Confronting Bullying in Public
If the bullying is happening in public, for example, on a train, or in a bar or other social situation, it may be harder.
For example, you might see someone who looks like they are being abused by a boyfriend in a public place, or someone being picked on by a group, looking a bit uncomfortable, or even someone being harangued on public transport.
The best thing to do is ask the person concerned if they are OK, or if they want you to help. You can then decide what action to take as a result.
If you are concerned about drawing attention to yourself, go up to the person and say,
‘Hey, I haven’t seen you for ages, how are you?’
and give them a hug. While you are doing so, you can ask them quietly, without drawing attention to it,
‘Are you OK, or would you like some help?’
They can then say either ‘I’m fine’ or ‘Yes please’ or even ‘Oh, it’s so good to see you, let’s get out of here and catch up somewhere quieter.’
Please note: This is much easier for a woman to do to another woman. For a man to do this to a woman might look a bit threatening, even if she was in trouble. Instead, it’s better just to say, quietly, “You look a bit uncomfortable. Is everything OK?”
Confronting your Friends
If you are part of the group making the trouble and you start to feel a bit uncomfortable with the level of ‘banter’ going on, you can either:
- Confront the others, and suggest that it’s probably gone far enough (the chances are that others in the group will also think so, and will help you to move on); or
- Try distraction: introduce another topic of conversation and see if you can turn the group away. Again, it’s likely that others will welcome this and support your move. For example, you might say ‘Now look, come on, we said we were going to get something to eat. Where shall we go?’
The second is likely to work better if, for example, the group is a bit drunk. You can, and probably should, have the first conversation at another time, when everyone is sober and can see why there might have been a problem.
It is also important to confront cyberbullying, or bullying online.
Again, this may be a matter of confronting people that you regard as friends. The answer may be to take a jokey approach.
For example, if you see a comment which looks very derogatory, add another that says something like:
“Ouch! I don’t suppose you meant it like that, but do you realise how bitchy that sounded?”
This will give the other person the option of saying sorry quickly and easily and adding that they did not mean it at all.
If you don’t feel able to do that, you can report the content to the website concerned, and ask them to investigate and/or remove the offending comment or post.
See our page on Cyberbullying for more information.
Taking the Hard Road
It is never going to be easy to confront and challenge bullying when you see it happening.
It is, however, important to do so, both for you and for those involved.
It is also worth remembering that however hard to feels to challenge bullying, it is infinitely harder to be on the receiving end of it.