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Why the No Blame approach can work for adults too

Bullying is a common form of social or managerial domination which causes hurt and harm to the recipient. The "bully" disregards the hurt or gets some satisfaction from causing it. Often the victim tries to disguise the hurt.

This process is rarely secret; it is generally observed by others who may join in, in order to protect themselves from victimisation or because it maintains a group identity.

Sometimes there is a real intention to cause hurt but many otherwise decent and kind people are involved, not fully aware of the hurt they are causing.

The No Blame approach is a seven-step process which does the following: * Communicates the victim's hurt in a non-blameful way.

* Creates a support group of helpers, including but not singling out the bully.

* Evokes empathic responses from group members.

* Encourages helpful interventions.

A teacher first used the approach in early 1991 to help a 17-year-old boy who was bullied in school. Since then about 30,000 adults have been trained in the programme which has been evaluated by three follow-up studies. All the work has been carried out in schools or colleges with childrenstudents aged 5 to 28.

The approach is almost always successful in improving the victim's position and seems to be sustained for long periods. Its strength lies in the effect it has on group action - the consent previously given, either implicit or explicit, for the bully to behave in this way is withdrawn. He or she can no longer function with a continued powerbase.

It is not a therapeutic approach and does not claim to do more than stop the bullying. Interventions which either demand change from the victim or, through punishment and criticism, expect bullies to behave better are generally unsuccessful and can make things worse, leading to revenge attacks and increased feelings of helplessness for the victim.

Five years ago, many schools were reluctant and even frightened to address the problem of bullying among pupils. We believe we are at that stage now with bullying in the workplace. Many schools agree that their inaction arose from lack of training and information - they simply did not know how to deal with the situations.

There is still a reluctance to use the No Blame approach with adults. People trying to manage workplace bullying lack the knowledge and training - there are no effective interventions available to them.

Sometimes victims are advised to become more assertive or to make official records and complaints to substantiate action to be taken against the bully. We believe this is a high risk strategy to all involved and is unlikely to bring about improved relationships. What is needed are simple, low-key and positive processes which are mutually satisfying to all participants.

If schools could, with teacher association support, provide cluster training for facilitators we believe that the intervention could be easily available for all colleagues victimised, harassed or discriminated against in the workplace.

We were approached by two teacher unions - the NUT and NASUWT - in 1992 and '93 to put forward training proposals for the No Blame approach to workplace bullying. We responded, but nothing proceeded beyond this stage.

George Robinson and Barbara Maines George Robinson is director of studies in the faculty of education, University of West of England. Barbara Maines is an educational psychologist for Avon. Details of the No Blame approach are available from Lameduck Publications,10 South Terrace, Redland, Bristol BS6 6TG. Telfax: 0117 97322881

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