Call out inappropriate behavior

It’s best to comment or stop the behavior in the moment, when details are fresh in everyone’s minds. Don’t wait until afterwards to speak out. Call it out when it’s happening, even if the target says nothing. They may not know what to do or say.

There are a variety of ways to call out the behavior, and oftentimes, it’s simpler than you think. Here are some strategies for calling out inappropriate behavior that you can use independently or in combination with one another.


Use “I” Statements

An “I” statement focuses on how an action or behavior made you feel, rather than placing a label on the behavior or the person who exhibited that behavior.

The purpose of using “I” statements is that it can help decrease the likelihood of the harasser becoming overly defensive about your comments and increase the likelihood that they are able to really hear you and learn from their mistakes.

  • “Hey John, I felt really uncomfortable and worried when I heard the comment you made to Lauren during our last all-hands meeting” instead of “Hey John, you’re offensive”


Casual statements

There are also off-the-cuff statements you can use to try to defuse the situation.

For example, if you witness sexist remarks during a work happy hour, you can try saying any of the following:

  • “Come on, that’s not cool”
  • “You know that’s not appropriate”
  • “We know you’re better than that”


Act confused

It can also be effective to act confused. Just asking the person why they made that statement can stop them in their tracks. It will either make them think about what they said, or make them realize no one will co-sign that behavior.

Some questions include:

  • “I don’t understand. What do you mean by that?”
  • “I think I just heard you say XYZ. Could you explain what you mean by that?”
  • “Why did you say that?”



Another tactic you can use is paraphrasing and repeating back what the harasser said.

Here’s an example:

  • “Did I hear you say that we should hire her because she’s hot? So are you actually saying that we should hire people based on their looks rather than their qualifications?”


Back each other up

If someone else in the room speaks up against a certain type of behavior and you agree with them, vocalize your support for that individual. This lets people in your office know that there are multiple employees in the room who think that this behavior is not tolerated.

The more people speak up, the less alone and isolated targets will feel and the more empowered they will be to stand up for themselves next time.

Also, backing each other up will encourage whoever spoke up to do so again because they know they’ll have social support if they do. This can also help create a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up against harassment.



Document the incident

It’s just as important for you as an ally to document incidents as it is for targets to do so themselves. You may not have been directly affected, but you were a witness to the behavior. This can help the target in the future when it comes time to report the incident.

Note the name of the individual targeted, the name of the harasser, other employees present, the specific comments or actions for the harassment, as well as the time and date that the incident occurred. The more information you include, the better.

Here is a more detailed documentation guide that outlines what you may want to note about the incident.

Approach the target and open a conversation

Be sure to check in with the target. Find a safe place outside of the workplace (like a nearby coffee shop) to talk. See how they’re doing. Offer support. How did it make them feel? Open up an honest conversation.

You can start by asking, “Hey, I noticed [the behavior] during the meeting. Do you want to talk about it?”

By approaching the target, you are recognizing that something was wrong with the interaction with the harasser. The target may be scared, shocked, or angry about what happened, but will be comforted knowing that there is someone by their side who sees and believes them.

Remind the target to document the incident

Just as you documented the incident, so should the target.

It’s helpful if there is documentation for every incident that the target experiences. You can offer to act as a witness in order to make the report stronger.

Use these guides for documentation to help with this documentation process.

Encourage the target to report the issue

Reporting an incident is often the hardest step, but reporting an issue is the only way your company is given a chance to stop the harassing behavior. The more employees that come forward about a specific harasser, the more the company can do to stop the harasser.

Understandably, there are many reasons why targets of harassment may feel reluctant or nervous about reporting an incident. There can be real ramifications on the target for reporting harassment, which means offering ally support is essential in making the target feel safer.

One way to help them address these fears is to remind them that they have rights that protect them from retaliation for speaking up. You can inform them about their rights and options, or share BetterBrave’s Guide for Targets of Sexual Harassment for them to read. There, you can also learn more about what to do if HR fails to take action.

If they are worried that they don’t have enough evidence, here are some tips for circumstantial evidence you can share with them.

Offer to report the issue with the target or on their behalf

You can offer to file a report alongside the target, especially if you have additional pieces of documentation that can help strengthen their report. It’s one thing to verbalize your support, and another to show your support through your actions. Speaking up takes a lot of courage, and the target will feel better knowing someone is on their side and willing to come forward together.

You can also offer to file your report first or on behalf of the target. It doesn’t matter who reports it as long as someone does. Once a report is made about harassment, HR must investigate it.

Remember, you have the same rights as the target and are protected by the law against retaliation from your employer for reporting incidents.

Support your friend (regardless of their decision)

Let your friend or colleague know that they have multiple options for what they can do next, whether it is reporting to HR, confiding in experts like employment lawyers, or finding a support group or counselor.

We all come from different backgrounds and have different life circumstances that impact what might be the best next step for each of us. That means that not every action (such as going to the press or filing a lawsuit) will be necessarily right for us.

Your support will give the target the courage they need to take next steps.