Helping a colleague or friend who is being bullied

It is not uncommon for people who are being bullied or harassed to blame themselves for the situation, to ask what they have done that has brought this upon them. It is therefore very important to begin by reassuring your friend or colleague that the person responsible for the problems is the person who is doing the bullying or harassing, not the person on the receiving end. Being bullied or harassed is, of course, stressful, but tackling the matter can also be a stressful experience. Your friend or colleague is therefore likely to need a lot of support in getting through this situation. In view of this, you would be well advised to consider what ways you are in a position to help or support him or her. This may be moral support (the confidence and comfort gained from knowing that you are behind them); practical support (helping them get in touch with a trade union or professional association, for example); or political support (using whatever power and influence you have within the organisation to aid them in tackling these issues). It is important that you go at your friend or colleague’s pace. Being bullied or harassed can be quite traumatic, and so it is understandable that he or she may not have the stomach for tackling the issues as keenly or as vociferously as you might perhaps like to. It is therefore important to be as sensitive and supportive as you can, but without taking over. One thing that can be helpful is to establish whether your friend or colleague’s employing organisation has a specific policy on bullying and harassment or whether such matters are dealt with in another policy such as Staff Care or Equality and Diversity. It can be very helpful to be armed with precise details of specific policies to quote in any complaint or informal raising of the issue. Seeing in black and white that bullying and harassing behaviours are not acceptable within the organisation can give tremendous moral support to your friend or colleague. It can also be helpful for him or her to understand that he or she is not alonein this. You may wish, therefore, to bring to their attention the existence of literature and other information on the subject (see the Resources Section for further details). Being bullied or harassed can leave people with a confusing mixture of feelings: fear, anger, guilt, disgust and so on. It is therefore important to be sensitive to their feelings and accept that they may not see the situation like you do and may not be ready to act on it. For example, they may be ‘paralysed’ with a confusing ‘cocktail’ of emotions and it may take some time before they are ready to do something about the problems they face. It is therefore important to remember that you are trying to help them and so you should not allow your own feelings to become the main driving force for your actions. It is essential to respect the wishes and feelings of the person concerned if you are not to add to their difficulties.

Dr Neil Thompson                       

Neil’s website and blog are at

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