Supporting a friend or colleague who has experienced any form of bullying, discrimination, abuse, assault or harassment can significantly help but can also be challenging. This information, gathered from a range of sources, provides guidance in what to say and do before, during and after delicate conversations.


In preparing for a conversation. Please note that preparation is not always possible as we cannot control when someone will begin a conversation. Reading through this and reflecting upon it may be a useful form of preparation. 


·       It may be helpful to acknowledge your level of understanding of the issue (you don’t need all the answers).
·       Be aware that you may respond to what you think is being said, rather than what is being said.
·       Your emotional and mental health. Are you in a place to take this on right now? Is there someone else who is better placed to support them?
·       Personal boundaries. Consider your time and capacity. If you are unable to have this conversation due to your mental health or capacity, be kind and honest in your setting of boundaries.

Sensitivity to the other person

·       Be aware that not everyone responds in the same way.
·       The person may be confused or in shock and/or not ready to talk.
·       That certain language may be triggering.
·       Be alert to personality and cultural differences, such as an indirect versus a direct style.
·       Consider your existing relationship with the other person. Do you know each other well? What are the power dynamics?

Being prepared

·       Consider the setting that you are in. Is it noisy, cold? Can other people hear your conversation? You may want to say something like: “That’s a really important thing you’re saying, shall we talk about it somewhere where I can hear you more clearly?”
·       The appropriateness of initiating this conversation at this time or in this place.
·       Potential for disclosure. If someone discloses serious harm towards themselves or others, you have a responsibility to forward this to an appropriate service. Prepare for this eventuality. If it happens, try and explain that your concern means that the conversation has to include others.
·       Resources. Have to hand numbers and details of organisations that might be able to help. You can find relevant support information at


 Listening can be a powerful and helpful way of assisting others. Here are some notes for good listening

1.       Accept what is being said, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and thoughts of denial or dismissive arise. Withholding your judgement will help the other person to say what they need to speak about.
2.       Reflect back what has been said by repeating  words or phrases or by summarising.  This lets the person know they’ve been heard and can help to keep the conversation going.
3.       Be patient – give the person space and time to work out when they want to talk and what they want to say. 
4.       Be yourself and show the person you care - give the person your full attention, using eye contact if they give eye contact. Other times, it may be more helpful to focus on something else, , as the speaker may communicate that a face-to-face encounter is not what they want.
5.       Acknowledge strong feelings; reflect back the feelings that are being expressed.
6.       Encourage - use encouraging words as someone starts to speak. Sometimes, simply saying ‘mmhmm’, ‘go on’, or ‘take your time’ can make people feel safe to open up on their own terms.
7.       Silence can be useful in giving the speaker time to process what they are feeling and saying. Have the courage to sit in silence. Your presence means a lot.
8.       Be Curious – Ask open ended questions, without making assumptions. What, how, when, who and why questions tend to prompt longer answers. For example, instead of saying ‘have you known them for long?’, ask ‘how long have you known them?’ ‘Why’ questions can be perceived as interrogative and judgemental. 
9.       Understanding -  listen to understand, rather than to come up with solutions, as this may feel controlling to the person speaking. Try to listen to their emotions as well as their words. Check your own understanding of what you have heard.]
10.   Say as little as is necessary; you cannot listen when you are talking 

Empathy has no script. There’s no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of “You’re not alone.” Brené Brown


Some questions and thoughts to consider. The important thing to remember is that in trying your best and seeking to understand the other person you can make a positive impact. You do not need to be perfect; no one is.

·       Take time to consider what was said. What was your response? Sometimes our response is driven by a Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn response. Do not blame yourself for your response in the moment, we are all human.
·       What are the implications of listening? Is there an action you agreed to take, no matter how small? This could be checking in with them later, or supporting them to find alternative sources of support.
·       Consider your own potential for unconscious bias, e.g. ‘Do I expect less of this person because they are older/younger?’ You may want to undertake some training.  
·       Adopt a learning mindset. Learning resources such as ‘Mindset’ by Dr Carol Dweck are available at the University library. 
·       How are you feeling? Feel what you feel. Try to let go of thoughts that bring comparison, such as: ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this, other people have it so much worse.’ Your experience is valid. There is no need to compare. Acknowledge the feelings that come up and take some time to yourself. You may wish to debrief with someone you trust when a conversation has been particularly difficult. For staff, this may be your line manager, for students this could be Student Services. 
·      Does this conversation need to be disclosed? If someone discloses serious harm towards themselves or others,  you have a responsibility to disclose this to an appropriate service. If you can, explain that your concern means that the conversation has to include others.

Seeking help

If, following the conversation, you need any kind of support, please reach out. Student Services and wardens are available to students. Student Services provide a consultation service for staff concerned about students  Human resources can provide support for staff. The Chaplaincy team provide a listening service for both students and staff. 

Be mindful, that the person who has experienced bullying, discrimination, abuse, assault or harassment, may or may not want to disclose the incident(s). Do not make a disclosure for something without their consent, unless there is a risk of serious harm to self or others. If in doubt, you have the option to talk things through with Student Services, Conduct or Human Resources, keeping the person’s name anonymous.

If there is an immediate risk of serious harm to you or anyone else please call the emergency services on 999 (to call from a University extension dial 9999). Please also notify the University’s Security and Response Team on 01334 46 8999 (to call from a University extension dial 8999). In any other circumstances that require an immediate response, you should call the University’s Security and Response Team on 01334 46 8999. 


[1] Samaritans ‘SHUSH TIPS’, The Mediation Partnership and Ruth Unsworth.
[2] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Penguin Books, 2015.


There are two ways you can tell us what happened