Strategies for Effective Helping


  • Safe
  • Early
  • Effective

In addition to the 5 Decision Making Steps (Notice the event; Interpret it as a problem; Assume personal responsibility; Know how to help; Implement the help - Step UP!), there are a number of strategies you can use for effective helping. (For action steps in each topic area please go to that specific topic). Follow a link below or scroll down for all information:

Emergency Helping — General Strategies

Emergency situations unfold quickly and often require immediate helping responses.

Carefully assess the entire situation/circumstances before making any decisions
or taking any action. Choose the most effective ways of helping for that particular situation. Be sure to not make the situation escalate.

Consider both direct and indirect ways to intervene:
Direct: You take responsibility as the primary helper.
Indirect: You request that someone else take responsibility as the primary helper (e.g., the Police, Emergency Medical Trained or EMT personnel, Athletic Administrators, etc.)

Whatever response you choose, remember the following in an emergency/crisis:
  • Calm the person
  • Gather information
  • Look at options
  • Provide support
  • Know appropriate referrals
  • Do not become enmeshed
  • Look for the best exit strategies (getting out of the situation) for those involved.
  • Be clear and direct with all of your requests.
  • Make safe choices; consider the level of risk in choosing an action for intervening.
  • Understand boundaries and limits — don’t be a hero. Remember verbal fights can quickly turn into physical fights. ***It is often better to WALK AWAY.
  • Intervene early — before a problem becomes a crisis or disaster.
  • Publicly state your commitment to helping. “I will do X.”
  • Engage other bystanders — You do “Y.”
  • Discuss consequences that the person cares about — Encourage VALUE BASED DECISIONS.
  • Assess personal exposure/liability when actions you know about are criminal.
  • Call 9-1-1 if it is not safe or prudent for you to help directly.

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Non-Emergency Helping — General Strategies

Non-emergency situations unfold more slowly and allow more careful planning of a helping response.

Consider both direct and indirect ways to intervene:

Direct: You speak with the person directly.
Indirect: Talk to another person who you feel could be helpful or give guidance and direction — teammate, counselor, administrator, coach.

Note: If you do not act immediately, don’t ignore the situation. Just because you don’t act right then and there doesn’t mean you can’t do it later!

Whatever response you choose, remember the following:

  • Consider frequency, duration and intensity/severity when evaluating a situation.
  • Determine the barrier for the person if possible — motivation, ability or environment.
  • Know your limits as a helper — engage others as necessary.
  • Be sensitive, understanding and non-judgmental.
  • Challenge misperceptions - Express your true feelings/beliefs.
  • Identify the red flags; Anticipate problems.
  • Determine the priority goal; Formulate a plan; Prepare/practice what you want to say.
  • Interrupt/distract/delay a situation you think might be problematic — before it becomes an emergency!
  • Set boundaries — do not make excuses for the person or otherwise enable them.
  • Conduct conversations in a safe environment. Maintain mutual respect and mutual purpose.
  • Remember the Law of DeliveryWho (person/s), What (content), When (timing), Where (location/privacy), Why (reasons) and How (tone).

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The 5 Point Formula/Script

The 5 Point Formula

Adapted from University of Massachusetts, Amherst Health Services,
Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program, and The BACCHUS Network.

I Care
Let the person know you care about him/her and that because of the significance of the relationship you need to discuss something very important. Both starting and ending the discussion with an emphasis that you are doing this out of genuine concern, caring and respect for the person, sandwiches the difficult feedback between strong positives. Choose words you are comfortable with and fit your style.

I See
Report/Review actual events with your friend, as you perceive them. Remember you are evaluating the behavior not the person. Try to limit your statements to observable, irrefutable facts. The more you have, the better.

I Feel
Tell the person your own feelings using “I statements” to reveal your feelings.

I Want
Tell the person what you would like to see happen.

I Will
Specify what you will or will not do. Only set ultimatums if you can, and will, stick to them.


I Care
“John, do you have a minute? Because you’re such a good friend and I really care about you, I want to talk to you about something very important.”

I See
“I’ve been noticing that you are not going to class as much and your practices haven’t been as productive lately. From my perspective, you really don’t seem to be yourself. I’ve seen you drinking more when we go out and it seems to be more frequent than in the past. You even got into that fight last weekend at the party and I’ve never seen that from you before.”

I Feel
“I’m worried about how it is affecting you — personally, in school and on the team. To be honest I’m also scared about what could happen to you.”

I Want
“John, I want what’s best for you and the team. I’d like to see you get some help – and sooner rather than later — at least talk to someone — either Coach Jones or even someone at our Counseling Center. You have so much to offer and the team really needs you! I’d really hate for something bad to happen because of a poor decision.”

I Will
“I’d be willing to go with you if you want. I want to support you however I can because I respect you and you are very important to me — and to the team — but I will not lie for you and I will not watch you continue to make unhealthy choices. I’m really concerned John.”

Other possible phrases with which to confront a teammate or another person:

    • “The team needs you and expects more from you.”
    • “This is (X school). That is not what we are about.”
    • “I know you are better than that.”
    • “You know that’s not OK.”

  • Make the target goal inflexible but the process to reach it flexible.
  • Be curious/ask questions to understand from their point of view. (Perspective taking)
  • Use contrasting to clarify misunderstandings. (e.g. What I DON’T want is X, what I DO want is Y).
  • Ask permission if the topic is sensitive.
  • Avoid “absolutes” (always, never, etc.)
  • Avoid gossiping and rumor spreading.
  • Be ready for a negative reaction. People can feel attacked when confronted and can get angry. Assure them that you are care about them and are concerned about their behavior.
  • Take care of yourself — it can be difficult on helpers as well.
  • Follow up.

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Within Your Team

  • Create shared and agreed upon acceptable standards of behavior. (We can do X, we cannot do Y).
  • Emphasize strength in numbers.
  • Create plans together to avoid high-risk situations.
  • Explain the expectation to intervene.
  • Make it relevant to the team and to achieving team goals.
  • Empower teammates to Step UP!
  • Acknowledge and reinforce caring behaviors.
  • Allow teammates to air thoughts/feelings.
  • Practice skills and strategies to Step UP!

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When Dealing with High Emotion

3 things TO do:

  1. Ensure your safety
  2. Try to dissipate the emotion
  3. Consider the other person’s perspective

3 things to NOT do:

  1. Don’t get caught up in the moment
  2. Don’t one-up the person
  3. Don’t patronize

Don’t deal with content until you deal with emotion.

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How to Increase Helping

  1. Encourage prosocial/helping behavior.
  2. Increase and optimize the 5 Decision Making Steps.
  3. Reduce inhibiting factors (pluralistic ignorance, conformity,
    spiral of silence, etc.)
  4. Increase identification of risk factors.
  5. Make “in-group” more inclusive.
  6. Practice perspective taking.
  7. Increase knowledge, skills, and confidence.

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5 Intervention Styles

Adapted from Jeff Janssen’s Team Captain’s Leadership Manual.


  • Avoids interventions at all costs
  • Believes problems will go away if ignored or thinks someone else will do something (diffusion of responsibility)
  • Rationalizes inaction by saying it’s “none of my business”
  • Falls into pluralistic ignorance trap
  • Advantage: By ignoring problems, little issues don’t become bigger ones
  • Disadvantage: Misses important times to intervene early
  • Turtles Need: COURAGE

Teddy BearTeddy Bear

  • Recognizes a problem exists (interprets situation as a problem) but is reluctant to act.
  • Prioritizes relationships over doing what’s right
  • Has a dire need for approval
  • May perceive costs as greater than rewards
  • Intervention is more indirect and passive
  • Advantage: Willing to assist
  • Disadvantage: Overvalues need to be liked or to fit in. Gives in to peer pressure. May sacrifice intervention opportunity in order to preserve relationship
  • Teddy Bears Need: CONFIDENCE


  • Willing to intervene but gives little or no thought to intervention methods
  • Stubborn, headstrong, wants to “save the day”
  • Advantage: Driven, really do want to help. Best in clear-cut emergencies
  • Disadvantage: Too aggressive; Insensitive; Can make situations worse
  • Sharks Need: PERSPECTIVE


  • Willing to intervene and considers the best approach using the S.E.E. model.
  • Sees through pluralistic ignorance. Vocalizes opinion and expresses true feelings
  • Does not give in to peer pressure
  • Understands and encourages Value Based Decisions
  • Advantage: Intervenes using all 5 Decision-Making Steps
  • Disadvantage: Can sometimes compromise relationship and goals
  • Foxes Need: EXPERIENCE


  • Does all that a Fox does AND considers other people’s perspective
  • Empathetic, altruistic, and respectful
  • Finds solutions that no one else has considered
  • Advantage: Creative problem solver. Most successful and effective interventions.
  • Disadvantage: Rare!

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Making Value-Based Decisions

As a bystander, one way to Step UP! is to get those involved in a situation to think about how current actions lead to future consequences. Remind them that what feels beneficial at the time may have greater long-term costs. In other words, are the “rewards” of the moment more valuable than the potential costs of the future (e.g., loss of scholarship; suspension/expulsion; criminal record, etc.)? Also, consider how long the “rewards” last vs. how long the “costs” last. How long will your choice impact your life a day/week/month or year later? Considering possible costs and rewards over time can be eye opening.

Help others by getting them to stop and think about what they are doing — or about to do. Is their decision aligned with their stated values? Will it jeopardize their future? Their goals? Their reputation? What they’ve worked so hard for? What you’ve ALL worked so hard for? Losing a teammate, even for a short period of time, may cost them (and you) in more ways than one. While it is important to support your teammates, it isn’t always easy to know how to best do this. Blindly following actions and/or not intervening in a situation you know in your gut to be wrong, is NOT supporting a teammate but rather assisting in their future troubles.

Please see the Scenario Worksheet in Appendix B for an example.

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The 5 Core Questions

Please consider the following 5 Core Questions for situations in which you may need to intervene.

More topic-specific questions are provided in the Topics section of this website. (Also see the Scenario Worksheet in Appendix B.)

  1. What is the goal?
  2. Discuss the Five Decision Making Steps:
    • Notice the Event (At what point could you notice?)
    • Interpret it as Problem/Emergency (What are the red flags?)
    • Assume Personal Responsibility (What could you do?)
    • Have the Skills to Intervene (What knowledge/skills are necessary?)
    • Implement the Help - Step UP! (What are direct and indirect ways
      to help?)
  3. What could you do to make the intervention Safe, Early, and Effective?
  4. Costs/Rewards - What are the benefits of intervening? What are some costs? What are some costs of NOT intervening?
  5. Perspective Taking - How would you feel if you were the “victim”? What would you be thinking? What would you want others to do for you?

Also, consider what other bystander behavior factors could be involved in certain
circumstances (pluralistic ignorance, conformity, diffusion of responsibility, etc.)

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For further information, view Strategies for Effective Helping worksheets or please contact us.