Stand up and be counted

When you see or hear wrongdoing, do you find it hard to challenge the situation? Martha Roberts looks at how you can make your voice heard


Stand up and be counted
  • Trust your instincts and acknowledge your limitations. If you want to challenge someone, assess whether you feel it’s safe to do so. If you’re not sure, leave it and call for back-up.
  • Give yourself 10 seconds to think about it. If you intervene when angry, it’s likely to ping-pong into something worse. Think ABC – pay Attention to what’s going on; Breathe deeply to override stress; and focus on your Curiosity to see how you can make a difference. Psychologist Anjula Mutanda says: ‘Give yourself 10 seconds, because that’s the time it takes for a message to get from the primitive brain to the logical brain.’
  • Reverse your thinking. Think to yourself, ‘What will happen if I don’t speak up?’ It may well be you have to live with a decision you’re not happy with – for example, if you choose to tolerate someone’s sexist comments in the office, it may be that they worsen and become endemic if no-one nips it in the bud.
  • Understand there are times when you may have to walk away. A friend of mine, Mary, confronted a racist football fan who always sat near her during league matches. ‘All I got in return was a volley of sarcastic comments about women not knowing anything about football!’ she says. ‘I didn’t enjoy sitting in front of him so, at the end of the season, I moved my season ticket. I still see him occasionally, but fortunately I can’t hear him any more.’
  • Stay connected to the perpetrator. Avoid setting yourself up as being better than the aggressor. Help them to feel safe – for example, if they are queue-jumping, say to them, ‘I know how frustrating it is waiting in this queue. I’ve been doing it for 40 minutes’.
  • Go public. Publicly sharing how someone is behaving can be a powerful deterrent to them doing it again. One friend told me: ‘One slimy colleague suggested on the phone that we share a room on an upcoming trip. I said, “No thank you, but would you like to ask anyone else, as you’re on speakerphone in the boardroom?” He wasn’t, of course, but he didn’t mess with me again.’
  • Avoid global statements. Instead of, ‘You did something wrong or bad’, say, ‘When you did X, I felt Y and that led me to think Z’. Mutanda calls this the ‘straight bat’ response, where you avoid being personal and state the facts instead. Speak for yourself and not for the moral majority or you’ll turn it into a judge-and-jury situation.
  • Accept small victories. Understand that you aren’t always going to change people’s minds that instant. Instead, feel content that you may have made people think, so they don’t repeat the behaviour the next time.
  • Challenge in tandem. Mark Levine, professor of social psychology at the University of Exeter, suggests that it requires three or more people to act to get the message across to the perpetrator. Is one particular friend, or possibly your boss, bullying other people? Than club together with other friends or colleagues to confront the person and their bad behaviour.

Photograph: iStock

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