Our FREE Feedback Guide will help managers to deal informally with bullying and harassment in their team.


Most serious cases of bullying or harassment that occur at work generally start with minor instances of inappropriate behaviour which are not dealt with at the time. This may give the perpetrator the message that their behaviour is OK and/or create resentment from the recipients which can build up into a more serious issue over time.

If a manager gets into the habit of giving feedback to staff about inappropriate behaviour observed or reported as soon as it occurs s/he can better avoid these situations escalating into claims of harassment and bullying.

The ABCDE Model

The ABCDE Model gives managers a framework for giving this feedback to their staff in a five-step sequential order.

The five stages are:

• Ask
• Behaviour
• Consequences/Chance to Respond
• Do
• Evaluate


Ask yourself a series of questions before engaging the perpetrator of the behaviour: “Do I have the facts about the behaviour I am about to address”

• Make sure that you have investigated the facts and are clear as to what behaviours, actions or comments were inappropriate.
• Make a note of any behaviour, actions or comments observed by you.
• If a staff member (recipient) approaches you with a complaint ask them to write down exactly what happened ie what was said or done by the alleged perpetrator.

“What is my desired outcome at the end of this discussion?”

Be clear as to what the desired outcome is. Do you want the perpetrator to eg

• acknowledge that their behaviour is inappropriate
• apologise to the recipient of their behaviour
• give an assurance that the behaviour won’t happen again
• state exactly what happened ie what was said or done by the alleged perpetrator.


Be specific about the behaviour you want to address during this conversation eg specific comments heard by you or specific instances of behaviours outlined to you by the recipient.

Syed: “I just heard you call Alex an idiot in front of his colleagues because there was a mistake in the work he passed on to you”.

Matt: “When the packing machine jammed, Kriss said you blamed him and called him a b****y fool”.

Paul: Jo said you told her “She ought to wear tight-fitting clothes more often as they show off her figure”.

Sue: Maja said she heard you telling the team that “All these immigrants who’ve been taking our jobs and benefits will have to go home once we leave the EU”.



The next step is to be clear about the impact of the behaviour on you, the recipient, other members of the team, etc.

Syed: “Your comments clearly embarrassed Alex and were inappropriate”.

Matt: “Kriss says it was not his fault and has complained about you swearing at him”.

Paul: “Jo said she felt embarrassed by your comments to her”.

Sue: “Maja was upset because she is Polish and thinks your comments referred to her and her family”.

Explaining the consequences of their behaviour is key to helping someone understand why you are highlighting their behaviour.

Chance to respond

At this stage, it may be appropriate to ask the staff member for an explanation as to why this has happened. It is important that you listen to what they say.

Syed: “What caused you to react like that?”

Matt: “You don’t normally swear at your colleagues. Is there something wrong?”

Paul: “Is it appropriate to make such personal comments to a female colleague at work?”

Sue: “We have a lot of staff from the EU working here, what do you think the impact of your comments would have on your colleagues?”


This is where you gain agreement as to what will happen next.

Syed: “I appreciate that Alex’s mistake caused more work for you but it is never acceptable to call a colleague an idiot. I need an assurance from you that it won’t happen again”.

Matt: “I acknowledge there had been numerous stoppages on the machine that morning but swearing at colleagues because you are frustrated is completely inappropriate. What will you say to Kriss about the way you behaved towards him?”

Paul: “I accept that some women would have viewed your comments as a compliment. Jo didn’t, so what will you say to her?”

Sue: “I understand that your comments about immigrants were not targeted at Maja or anyone else who works here, but that is not how they were perceived by Maja. What will you do to deal with the situation?”

It is important to agree on a date when you will review the situation so that the employee knows you will be following up this initial discussion


Assess whether the agreed actions have taken place and/or the situation has been resolved.

Successful Outcome

Syed: “Thank you for agreeing not to speak to colleagues so disrespectfully in future”.

Matt: “Kriss said you apologised to him at break time. Thank you for doing that straight away.”

Paul: “Jo said you apologised for making such personal comments to her. Thank you”

Sue: “Thank you for telling Maja your comments were insensitive and not targeted at her or her family”.

Unsuccessful Outcome

Syed: “I heard you telling your colleagues that Alex doesn’t know what he’s doing and is useless at his job. It is not acceptable to criticise your colleagues publicly in this way. I have set aside some time this afternoon to discuss this with you more fully.

Matt: “Kriss said you didn’t apologise to him. Do you need some help from me in deciding what to say to him?”

Paul: “Jo is very angry because you told her she was over-sensitive and should learn to take a compliment. I would prefer to avoid this becoming a disciplinary matter. I need to speak with you now, to avoid this situation escalating into a complaint”.

Sue: “Maja said you are ignoring her and won’t speak to her. I am disappointed that you have chosen to react like this. Excluding colleagues is a form of harassment or bullying and will be dealt with as a disciplinary matter if we cannot resolve it. Let’s sit down now and talk through what you will do”.

It is important to reinforce positive behaviour change and to highlight continuing unacceptable behaviour or poor performance. Remember it is hard work for people to change their behaviour so things may not change after one conversation.