Listen, Acknowledge, Act

Learn to support those who are experiencing or have experienced bullying.

Supporting someone with an experience of bullying can be challenging. Our Listen, Acknowledge, Act approach offers guidance on how to step in and create positive change.

What is Listen, Acknowledge, Act?

Listen, acknowledge, Act helps people respond to tough situations with kindness, using behavioural science to address bullying and harassment reports.

Using Listen, Acknowledge, Act will help you to support individuals through their experiences and take action that could make a difference. You can help them feel supported and empowered.

This approach is a powerful tool in the fight against bullying and can help create a safer and more inclusive environment for everyone.





If someone tells you they have been bullied or harassed at work, it can be stressful if you’re unsure how to respond. You might feel uncertain about what to say, or believe that it’s your responsibility to solve the problem.

Active listening can make a significant difference and provide meaningful support. It means genuinely paying attention and engaging with the person sharing their experience.

When someone opens up about a difficult situation, especially if it’s the first time, their immediate reaction to your response matters greatly. Victims of bullying often feel lonely, but our ctive listening can help them feel acknowledged, validated, and less isolated.

Bullying thrives when it remains unnoticed in the workplace. By offering empathy and support to those going through such experiences, we not only benefit the targeted individual but also contribute to creating a healthier work environment for everyone involved.

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  • Active listening is an enhanced form of listening to others.
  • It helps us understand a situation or another person’s perspective more deeply and creates an environment where people can build trust and feel safe.
  • In normal conversations we tend to be thinking about what we will say next; perhaps trying to come up with ideas or solutions or to share a similar experience. There’s often a temptation to give advice. Active listening means we put all these distractions aside and focus our attention entirely on the speaker.
  • Remember that solutions can look different for everyone. Active listening encourages us to fully engage with the speaker’s individual perspective and context.
Talking to a colleague

If you are talking to a colleague, the act of providing a listening ear and a non-judgemental space might be enough. They might ask you to keep the matter private – you should respect this but also consider the risks of not reporting the reporting the situation and explore options with them. You could offer to be present at a conversation with their Line Manager and to submit notes if it helps – read our guidance on making a record.

Supporting as a Line Manager

You should treat this conversation as an informal report of bullying or harassment and respond in line with your company policy. T0 learn more about this process, see our resources focused on supporting employers. At the end of the meeting, it’s a good idea to make a note summarising the issues and the agreed action points. Share further sources of support with them and agree to monitor the situation going forward.

  • Think about creating good listening conditions to enable the speaker, such as a quiet confidential space where you wont be disturbed.
  • Give the speaker time, as they might not be able to tell you everything in a linear way or all at once
  • Be mindful of the speaker’s body language, tone of voice, mood and emotion
  • Adapt your posture and body language to support your listening – angle yourself towards them, maintain comfortable eye contact and smile where appropriate
  • Demonstrate interest and warmth – use non-verbal cues to reassure – nod and encourage. Consciously soften down your voice and tone.
  • Approach the conversation with genuine curiosity for the speaker’s situation
  • Listen with your focus on understanding rather then immediately responding
  • Put aside any judgement or personal opinion
  • Try not to interrupt the speaker with your advice or thoughts
  • Use listening phrases and open questions to demonstrate your level of atonement and to help the speaker connect with the best solutions for them
Not everyone is the same

In some cultures eye direct contact is deemed as rude and might be uncomfortable for someone disclosing something difficult or upsetting. Some people will prefer to look away or look downwards. Some neurodivergent people may prefer to stand or walk around or fidget as they speak. It is important to simply allow people to do what makes them feel most comfortable and able to share.

If you are supporting a colleague your reaction the way you respond will be different from how you might respond as a Line Manager or someone in a senior position. In both situations, you should summarise, reflect and agree action points together to end on a supportive and transparent tone. e.g.

  • Thank the speaker for sharing their difficult experience with you
  • Give a short summary sharing the speaker’s key points back
  • Ask them – is there anything I’ve missed?
  • Ask them – is there anything else you’d like to add?
  • Sum up the agreed points
  • Agree a course of action

Example: Thanks for telling me about your experience today – I appreciate how hard it can be to come forward and talk about these things. To sum up – we agree these ‘jokes’ are actually micro aggressions that are hurtful and inappropriate and that this situation needs addressing swiftly. Thus far, we haven’t decided what to do exactly – but you will go away and think about the mediation options we talked about and I will make sure I cross reference with our bullying and harassment policies. You will also call the FTVC bullying helpline to see what they suggest. We will meet to discuss this again in two day’s time and agree next steps together.  Is there anything I’ve missed here or anything else you’d like to add?

  • Paraphrase: seek understanding by paraphrasing.
    • “It sounds as though you’re having a really tough time with this person and really confused about what to do”
  • Mirror: Repeat keywords so people feel understood.
    • “I can really sense how angry you are right now”
  • Gain clarity: check that you are understanding the situation fully.
    • “It sounds like you’re feeling as though you really need this behaviour to stop now – is that right?”
  • Open questions: demonstrate your level of atonement and to help the speaker connect with the best solutions for them.
    • “What have you already tried in this situation?”
    • “What would a good solution to this look like for you?”
    • “What next steps might you/we take?”
    • “How could I/we best support you in this situation?”
    • “Would you like me to just listen today or offer some thoughts and guidance?”
    • “Do you have people outside work also supporting you?”


Have you ever witnessed bullying at work and not felt equipped to deal with it?

Witnessing colleagues who are being can feel distressing and compromising. We might like to think that we would know how to intervene, but most employees who witness bullying situations, known as bystanders, do not feel able to respond.

Active Bystanders are key in helping to create an anti-bullying workplace culture by preventing, discouraging, and/or intervening when negative and unprofessional behaviour occurs.

When experiencing bullying, we can often be caught off guard, or feel as though we don’t know what to do or what to say. By adopting one of three simple intervention techniques, targets of bullying can suffer less damage thanks to active bystanders intervening.

The three “D”s of intervention are keywords to keep in mind when deciding how to intervene:

  • Direct: Intervene directly – address the bully and their behaviour directly – only call them out if the situation is safe and seems unlikely to escalate. Try to talk calmly to the person who’s bullying and tell them that you find their behaviour unacceptable.
    • You could say, “this doesn’t feel like an appropriate conversation, can we take a break?” or “I’m uncomfortable with the tone of this conversation, I’d like it stop”
  • Distract: think up a tactic to diffuse the situation. You might engage with the person being bullied in order to deflect attention away from them. You might be able to get either the bully or victim to walk away in order to change what’s going on. You could say, “I need a quick chat with you in private”. If you need a quicker approach, spill your drink
  • Delegate: If you don’t feel comfortable with direct intervention, engage help from someone else. If you’re not in a position to address a situation alone, there may be someone nearby or someone senior you can recruit to help.
  • If you have witnessed someone being bullied, check in after the event to ask how they’re feeling.
  • Listen and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Let them know that the way they were treated was inappropriate and unprofessional.
  • Ask what you can do to help.
  • Educate yourself on reporting options, support, and other resources so you can help the person being bullied by reminding them what is available.
  • One of the most powerful weapons we have against bullying behaviour is our ability to document. Record the details of any acts of bullying you witness, or you are told about with the date, time, person, and facts. Learn how to make a record here.
  • Ask for their permission to talk about the incident with colleagues or HR. If they are comfortable speaking to someone about it, you could support them. If they’re not, they may agree for you to speak to someone on their behalf.
  • Speak to the Bullying Advice Service for guidance on this and tell your colleague how to apply for our bullying support.

Speaking out is hard. You may want to avoid causing conflict within your team or fear repercussions, but it can actually improve the workplace for everyone. The BFI’s guidance on bullying prevention stresses that ‘doing nothing makes you complicit’ and urges witnesses to report it.

Ideally the person being bullied will be comfortable about you sharing the information with a trustworthy person in a position of authority. If possible, begin with your Line Manager or the designated person named on your employer’s Bullying Policy. You can ask to have a confidential conversation in the first instance, to explore how the situation might be handled. If the target asks you NOT to communicate with anyone, you must consider the wider risks of not doing so.

Organisations have a key part to play in stopping bullying and, ideally, should have anti-bullying policies that are easily accessible by employees. Your organisation should have a policy on bullying which clearly defines what bullying is and have transparent, confidential processes for reporting incidents that are either directly experienced or witnessed. Even if there’s no policy, your employer has a legal duty of care to protect you while you’re at work. This includes dealing with bullying issues.

If you or your colleague reports the bullying behaviour and it isn’t addressed, you can make a complaint.

Bullying in the workplace can have a significant negative impact on workplace wellbeing. For targets it can cause feelings of distress, isolation and humiliation and high levels of anxiety and stress. Watching another person being bullied can also have a huge impact. Your work may have a Mental Health First Aider, a Wellbeing Facilitator or Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which could provide emotional support.


Bullying and Harassment Action Guidance

Employers should do all they reasonably can to prevent bullying and harassment at work and they can be liable for harassment suffered by their employees, and others. By law, employers must do everything they reasonably can to protect staff from harassment, discrimination, and victimisation and this includes protecting:

  • Employees and workers
  • Contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
  • Job applicants.

They also have a responsibility – a ‘duty of care’ – to take reasonable care of the health and safety of employees and to provide a safe workplace.

Acas has produced guidance for employers on preventing and handling bullying and harassment.

Having an Anti-bullying and Harassment Policy in place can provide clarity and may help prevent problems from escalating. If you don’t already have a policy in place, you can adapt the Dignity At Work Policy template created by the BFI and Bectu.

The policy should identify what constitutes bullying and harassment, have a clear message that it will not be tolerated, set out preventative measures, explain how individuals can raise concerns, provide guidance about the process you will follow to deal with any concerns which are raised with you and appropriate timelines.

Your policy should name a designated individual so that all employees know who they should speak to if they are experiencing issues around bullying or harassment. Ideally reports should be made to one designated senior person (with an alternative offered should that report relate to the designated person).

In some cases, the person who is raising concerns accuser may not wish for any action to be taken due to fear of repercussions. However, it is important that the possible outcomes of inaction are considered – such as potential harm to others from a repeat of any behaviour.

Deciding how to act following a report of an issue can be difficult. It’s a good idea to have a confidential company system for keeping notes of reports where you record agreed outcomes etc.

To help you decide how to assess the appropriate course of action, we have produced the following “three tiers” of risk, to serve as guidelines to help you ascertain the best course of action.

**Remember that bullying and harassment are considered differently in law – bullying is covered by different pieces of workplace legislation, but harassment and discrimination are unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

If the behaviour or incident is isolated, the risk of repeat behaviour or incidents appears low and/or the individual reporting the behaviour is generally okay, the situation can be treated as low risk. The response of the individual about whom the complaint has been made to any suggested interventions should be positive, with an openness to problem-solving demonstrated.

Infographic title: Tier one - Moderate Incident. It is important to check that there has been no alleged criminal behaviour. Is the accuser ok? Is the response of the perpetrator to suggested interventions generally positive? Was it an isolated incident? Are both sides open to finding a solution and continuing to work together? The possible actions can be an informal chat, offer of mediation, providing relevant training, providing support or monitoring and reviewing the situation going forward.

Having trouble viewing this image? Download it the PDF of our Bullying Advice Service flowcharts.

If the behaviour or incident on the individual reporting the behaviour and/or bystanders has had an impact (e.g. the behaviour is likely to have caused a higher level of distress or upset for the individual involved and could have led to injury or an anxiety response), it is possible that there was an intent to cause harm and/or it’s evident that the behaviour or incidents are part of a wider pattern (e.g. it is not the first incident with either this individual or someone else and other instances have occurred), the situation can be treated as medium risk. The response of the individual about whom the complaint has been made to interventions should be positive, (e.g. they accept the suggested interventions and commit not to repeat the behaviour).

Infographic title: Tier one - Significant Incident. It is important to check that there has been no alleged criminal behaviour. Is the accuser ok? Is the response of the perpetrator to suggested interventions generally positive? Was it an isolated incident? Are both sides open to finding a solution and continuing to work together? The possible actions can be an informal chat, offer of mediation, providing relevant training, providing support or monitoring and reviewing the situation going forward.

Having trouble viewing this image? Download it the PDF of our Bullying Advice Service flowcharts.

In high-risk scenarios there is likely to be probable intent of harm, threatening behaviour or coercion, or an abuse of power. The harm caused could encompass severe physical or mental injury caused and the impact on the individual reporting the behaviour and / or bystanders will be severe with a potential high level of distress. There may be a discernible pattern of behaviour or multiple instances which have continued despite previous interventions. The response of individual about whom the complaint has been made may demonstrate a lack of insight, no commitment not to repeat and a rejection of proposed interventions are rejected. Therefore, the risk of repeat is high.

Infographic title: Tier Three - Serious Incident. It is important to check if a criminal act has taken place. If the impact on the accuser and/or bystanders will be severe with a high level of distress. Is there a discernible pattern of behaviour or multiple instances which have continued, despite previous interventions? The response of the perpetrator may demonstrate a lack of insight, no commitment not to repeat and proposed interventions are rejected. The possible outcomes here are involvement of enforcement agencies, formal investigations, medication, disciplinary warning, compulsory training, separate the accuser and the accused in the workplace and finally termination of contract.

Having trouble viewing this image? Download it the PDF of our Bullying Advice Service flowcharts.

If a criminal act may have taken place (e.g. if an individual tells you they’ve been physically attacked, sexually assaulted, the victim of a hate crime, for example racist or homophobic abuse, or threatened with violence)), you should talk to them about whether they want to report it to the police, and support them if they choose to report it. In most cases, you should go along with their decision. But you might decide you have to tell the police yourself in some circumstances. This might include if you or they think there’s likely to be an ongoing risk to their safety or the safety of others or an increased risk to their safety because they’re a vulnerable person, for example they have a mental health condition. Before telling the police, you should talk with the person who’s made the complaint. You should also let them know once you’ve told the police. If you’re not sure what to do, you should make sure you get specialist and legal advice.

Dealing with issues of bullying and harassment in the workplace is stressful for all involved. It is recommended that access to support is provided for not just the individual raising the problem but also the individual about whom the complaint has been made, and the team dealing with the report. This might include an employee assistance programme (EAP), counselling services, staff support networks or specialist external organisations and charities that provide bullying, harassment and discrimination support.

This can be via BECTU, a Wellbeing Facilitator, an HR professional (in-house or third party) or our Bullying Advice Service. Check out our Wellbeing information for extra guidance and sources of support when it comes to dealing with mental health at work.

If you are unsure of how to proceed, please ask for help. Bullying and harassment issues can be complex and can impact the wellbeing of all involved so it is vital that a fair and just process is carried out, that is communicated well to all involved.

It is important to ensure that both the individual raising the issue and the individual about whom the complaint has been made are kept informed of the process undertaken to deal with any concerns which are raised, the timelines in respect of this and the steps taken.

It’s important to tell the person who made the complaint whether their complaint was ‘upheld’ or not and what will happen next. If the complaint was upheld, this usually means recommending actions that need to be taken to resolve the complaint. It’s important to ensure any unacceptable behaviour or treatment has stopped and nobody is treated unfairly because they made a complaint or supported someone else’s complaint.

After you’ve dealt with a complaint, it’s also important to take reasonable steps to prevent bullying and harassment in the future e.g. providing appropriate training on bullying and harassment, reviewing your organisation’s policies and procedures in respect of bullying and harassment to ensure they are effective, putting in place support for those affected, transforming cultures and improving attitudes to prevent workplace bullying and promoting healthy, supportive and positive working environments through internal campaigns.

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