What is bystander intervention training?
Did you know that anyone can be an active bystander? The city of Chicago believes in this so strongly that they have recently mandated organizations to provide bystander training for all employees. Here’s the basic premise. Anyone who witnesses a harmful or potentially harmful situation is a bystander. With the right training, all employees can become active bystanders—helping to build a respectful and harassment-free work environment.
With bystander intervention training, employees learn how to become active bystanders—people who intervene to protect others from potentially harmful behavior. They will watch relatable scenes, hear real-life workplace stories through candid interviews, and receive guidance on different techniques for intervening. And their learning will be reinforced through interactive exercises that enable them to better understand their options for responding to sensitive situations.
To help you understand the full value of bystander intervention training, let’s take a deeper look at how it can be most effective.
Training is about more than what not to do
Traditional old-school harassment prevention training focuses solely on what NOT to do. Paradoxically, this can backfire, mainly if it is poorly done and full of cliches and tired narratives. Research from Frank Dobbin, professor of sociology at Harvard University, and Alexandra Kalev, associate professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University, shows that such training can have an opposite of the desired effect, where harassers are more likely to blame the victims than they were before the training.
Bystander intervention circumvents this cycle by adding a new dimension. The key to this is that rather than positioning people as either victims or harassers, it assumes good intent on the part of all participants. Everyone is engaged in spotting harassing behavior and stepping in to help. This kind of constructive engagement puts everyone on the same level and in a better place to contribute positively.
The power of Bystander Intervention training
When organizations consider whether to embark on higher-level harassment prevention, it’s essential to understand what they will accomplish. Aside from meeting Chicago’s requirements, here are the kind of outcomes you can expect when you complement harassment prevention training with bystander intervention.
- People will feel included —Because they are being engaged to provide support, it will feel positive and inclusive. It puts people on a level playing field—no one feels targeted or put on the spot.
- The approach is disarming —No one is automatically pinned as a harasser. Participants will be more likely to lay down their defenses. Instead of being accused or portrayed as victims, they are being asked to help.
- It’s empowering —If people feel that they have permission to step in, they are more likely to do so. Any fear of reprisal will be diminished if intervention is not just encouraged but expected.
- It’s been proven to work —Bystander intervention is most potent because it stops harassing behavior before it goes any further to become a more significant problem.
- The positive outcome spreads —When one bystander intervention is successful, it may be observed by others who will then repeat that positive behavior.
- Brings out our best qualities—With proper guidance, intervention brings out our best human qualities. It fosters empathy and creates awareness and understanding.
- Creates a safer environment—Once the idea of intervention is considered standard, it fosters an atmosphere where people feel safe and comfortable.
- Reshapes the workplace culture —When people feel safe and supported, they are more likely to feel valued. And with that rise in confidence, retention stabilizes, innovation increases, and the entire organization is poised for tremendous success.
Bystander intervention has the potential to be transformational for an organization, especially when it complements an immersive harassment prevention training experience. When shaped and executed correctly, it can have a substantial impact. It will be both in what you see—excellent connectivity, awareness, and understanding and what you don’t see—de-escalation of harassing behavior and the problems that come with it. The journey will be enlightening, and the rewards can be significant.
Portions of this article were drawn from the article Bystander Intervention: Culture change through harassment prevention, which appeared in Training Magazine and was authored by Natasha Nicholson, Director of Content Marketing at Kantola.
See more information on Kantola Connects.