Darley and Latane, the forefathers of bystander intervention, identified five stages that people move through when taking action in a problematic situation. These stages may not be linear.1
- Notice potentially problematic situations
- Identify when it's appropriate to intervene
- Recognize personal responsibility for intervention
- Know how to intervene
- Take action to intervene
While some situations are easily noticeable, many other situations are better characterized as problematic or high-risk behaviors that are likely to escalate to dangerous situations, including:
- offensive comments
- atypical or withdrawn behavior
- controlling behavior in a relationship
- high-risk drinking (e.g., taking shots, playing drinking games).
Sometimes, a person’s gut instinct or intuition can be the best cue that a problem exists.
The next step is interpreting the situation as a problem in need of intervention.
- Is the person acting drunk as a joke, or are they actually intoxicated?
- Are the two people standing close together being affectionate, or is one being intimidating or aggressive towards the other?
- Has a friend seemed depressed for more than a week or two?
You may have to gather more information, for example by:
- observing the situation
- checking in verbally
- asking someone else what they’ve seen
You may not be the person who needs to take direct action, but by identifying problems, you can help put the right solutions in place.
The question here is “do I need to act?” It can be easy to assume that others will intervene so you don’t have to, particularly, if other individuals or departments are charged with keeping the community safe (e.g. police/P-Safe, SHARE, deans, bouncers).
We are more likely to recognize the situation as requiring our help if
- No one else is around, and/or
- We can relate to the issue on a personal level, such as if our friend/family member is in danger. We would want help if we were in that position; we understand the impact the situation could have if it continues.
Even if it seems like the situation is “not your business” or someone else should intervene, you may need to help make that happen.
This step involves acquiring skills and developing a range of strategies that lead to effective interventions. Knowing how to intervene safely and effectively improves our ability and willingness to intervene.
There are multiple options when it comes to intervening. Learning an array of direct and indirect approaches allows you to choose the one(s) that fit the particular situation and your comfort level. Check out the "Developing Intervention Skills" page to find out which skills work best for you.
1Darley, J. M., & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377-383.