So you want to train harassment advisors? But what, exactly, do they do? This blog will show how Harassment Advisors use their skills to help people decide on their next step, but without telling them what to do. It takes time, and it takes skill. Don’t expect to learn how to be a good harassment advisor in half a day!
Minuche is being bullied on social media
Minuche is a final year student who shared a house in her second year with three friends. Her father used his connections as a senior director of a multi-national to get her an internship in the USA for the summer, and in early September, one friend, Vicky, texted Minuche to say she hadn’t been able to find a house for four so the three were going to house-share and, sadly, Minuche would have to make her own plans.
This causes a massive rift and Minuche turns to the Harassment Advice service because the three friends are using social media to humiliate and attack her. Her advisor is Jimmy.
Minuche is very angry and says she wants to lodge a complaint if that’s what’s needed to stop the bullying. This is a position – her solution to the problem which she thinks will make her feel better. Because she currently feels terrible – hurt, ashamed, fearful, defensive and alone.
Jimmy doesn’t immediately respond to the position, as doing so would probably cement it in Minuche’s mind. Instead he stays calm and stays listening. He asks probing questions to help Minuche talk about everything that has been going on.
As she does so, she is able to get in touch with the other feelings this situation has provoked in her – not just anger, but shame and loss, sadness and fear. These are much harder emotions for Minuche to feel, and to own, and Jimmy uses his empathy skills to remain warm and supportive. By talking through the detail of what’s been troubling her so much, Minuche is also able to move away from her opening option of ‘make a complaint’. When she says ‘I just want them to stop’ Jimmy recognises this as an interest and need statement. He acknowledges this with a reflection, then says ‘perhaps there are other options to consider that will get them to stop. Should we explore some of those now?’ By leading her when she is ready to think about options, Minuche is more likely to be creative and find something that will work.
Jimmy asks a series of option-generating questions to help Minuche explore different options that might meet her interests and needs. It is important that Minuche comes up with her own ideas, but she needs to be supported to move her head and heart away from “how it is now” to how she’d like it to be. He asks her:
- How will you know when this feels okay for you?
- In an ideal world, how would you be feeling?
- After this situation is over, what kind of relationship do you want with them?
- What is good about making a formal complaint? What might be bad about making a formal complaint?
- What is your first choice… second choice… third choice?
- What might work if there were not so much bad feeling?
- What do you think the others might be prepared to do?
When positions stay stuck
But Minuche keeps going back to ‘I think I’ll make a formal complaint’, as she experiences discomfort at moving away from what she perceives as the ‘safety’ of her position. So Jimmy now explores this with her in detail, making sure she understands exactly what this choice would involve her, as well as her former friends, in. With Jimmy being a non judgemental agent of reality, and now she has a more realistice picture of the complaint process, Minuche decides, for herself, that making a complaint is less likely to get her what she really wanted – which was for the behaviours to stop – even though it might get her part of what she also wanted, which was for her former friends to feel as humiliated as she did. But as Jimmy pointed out, she had no control over how her former friends would react to a complaint, and whether they would feel in any way humiliated – they may react completely differently.
Helping Minuche prepare to talk
Minuche decided to talk to Vicky, so to ensure she got the most out of this brave choice, Jimmy helped Minuche prepare, in detail, how she would set up the meeting, how she would begin, the language she would use, how she would manage her feelings during the conversation, and how she would know if the conversation had been a ‘success’ or not.
Together they identified the mutual purpose of the meeting which was that each was able to move on with their academic studies without any hangover from their former friendship. Minuche practiced using ‘I’ statements to state her feelings, not her opinions (“I feel upset by the things on Facebook’ rather than ‘You’re upsetting me posting things on Facebook”). She was determined not to pretend – either to minimise or dramatise; she was going to be honest and straightforward. They rehearsed the conversation with Jimmy throwing at Minuch all the potential responses that Vicky could make; Minuche practised explaining what she thought and felt, rather than why.