This is why the most effective programs for helping bystanders speak up—in schools, universities, and workplaces—not only provide training on how to handle difficult situations but also give people opportunities to practice these skills by roleplaying various scenarios.
5. Find a friend who shares your concern
Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, found that what best predicts when someone will challenge prevailing social norms, even at great personal risk, is not having to do so alone. The downfall of Theranos (a company that made fraudulent claims about blood testing) started when two employees spoke out together about their concerns, even though they knew they would face potentially lasting personal and professional repercussions. For those of us who aren’t naturally courageous, finding a friend to stand by our side can be essential.
6. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes
In 1999, Kathryn Bolkovac, a former police officer, was working as a human rights investigator with the United Nations International Police Task Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina when she discovered that some fellow officers were engaging in sexual misconduct. They were hiring prostitutes and raping underage girls, and were involved in sex trafficking. When she reported these offenses to higher-ups, she was demoted and then fired. (In 2002, she won her lawsuit for wrongful termination.)
What led her to speak up? For Bolkovac, a mother of three, one factor was the personal connection she felt to the girls who were being abused. As she told National Public Radio, “I’d be lying if I said there certainly weren’t moments when the children—my own girls—were going through my mind.”
Related: 5 Ways To Spot A Fake Nice Person
Speaking up and risking the consequences can be far easier if you can see the world from someone else’s perspective. Some people may naturally empathize with others, but we can all learn to be more empathic by deliberately expending the time and energy to cultivate empathy. After all, if you were being bullied or sexually assaulted, wouldn’t you want someone to stand up and help you?
We can all learn to speak up in the face of bad behaviour. If enough of us do so, we can change the culture to one of courage and action instead of silence and inaction. What would it take to create a culture in which we are expected to act when we hear offensive language, witness sexual misconduct, or see workplace fraud? Sometimes just a single voice can be enough, especially when that one person gives others the courage to speak up.
Learn Simple Strategies for Speaking Up About Bad Behavior, From Offensive Speech to Harmful Behavior.