Bystander Intervention

It can be hard to know what to do when an uncomfortable—even potentially dangerous—situation arises, but silence and inactivity never make a situation better. Try some of these phrases if you aren't sure what to say.


Some people may not realize the impact of their language or behaviors. Ask questions about what happened and encourage them to think about what they're saying or doing.

Sounds Like:

"When you said ____, what did you mean?"

"I'm not sure I understand what you are saying. Can you expand on that?"

"What was your intention?"

Direct Interventions:

Intervening at a moment when someone is in immediate physical danger or when the conversation topic gets inappropriate sends a message that you are concerned, paying attention and willing to get involved.

Sounds Like:

"I don't agree with you."

"I don't think that's appropriate."

"Please stop that."

"I'm calling for help."

"Is everything OK?"

"Do you need help?"

"I" Statements:

Emphasize the impact the behavior had on you by stating your feelings, recognizing the behavior that made you feel that way and stating what you would like the other person's response to be.

Sounds Like:

"It makes me feel uncomfortable when you talk about other people in that way. Please stop using that type of language."

"I feel ___when you ___. Please don't do that anymore."

Indirect Intervention:

Addressing the issue at a later time can be an effective communication tactic. 

Sounds Like:

"I want to talk with you about something I heard you say last night."

"Something has been bothering me. Can we talk?"

Nonverbal Communication:

Facial expressions and body language send powerful messages about your disagreement or discomfort in a situation.

Looks Like:

Concerned facial expression, silent stare, crossed arms.


Personalizing the situation sometimes helps the person being confronted to take the feedback seriously, empathize with how they have made someone feel or consider the impact of their actions.

Sounds Like:

"Would you want a friend treated that way?"

 "I really don't appreciate that kind of language."

 "We're friends, and I am worried about you."

"I am worried that if you keep this up, you will get in trouble."

Provide Information:

Sometimes it is helpful to provide the facts, describe the law or explain a policy. Some people may be unaware that their behavior meets the criteria of being something harmful.

Sounds Like:

"It's not about your intent, it's about the interpretation. This could be considered sexual harassment and that's not funny."

"If they're drunk, they can't give consent for sex."

"They told you to leave them alone. If you keep it up, they could file a harassment or stalking complaint."

Get Help

This could be direct or indirect intervention. Ask for guidance from a professor, staff member, counselor (confidential resource) or someone that you feel comfortable talking to about the subject. Tell them what you've observed and ask them for help. You can even make an anonymous call to Campus Public Safety to let them know what is happening.

Other Techniques to Try:

Distraction: You can interrupt the behavior without directly addressing it or the offender. For instance, you could ask for directions, the time or help with something.

Humor: When used properly, humor can be an effective technique to decrease tension, raise awareness and increase critical thinking. Be cautious that humor also has potential of minimizing an important point.

Strike When the Iron is Cold: Sometimes people need to calm down and relax before an intervention. Talk to them later about the events to give the offender time to rethink their actions and give the target a chance to leave.