Harassment: “The Twist” Test

Let’s say that you just observed a behaviour in the workplace that somehow made you uncomfortable, where your gut tells you that maybe some offensive line was crossed. Or heaven help us! –  let’s say that it was you who said or did something that makes you wonder whether you’ve just crossed that elusive line between `appropriate’ and `inappropriate’.

But you’re not really sure. The more you mull it over, the less sure you are.

You’re not alone. These `grey’ harassment situations are very difficult to diagnose. And if we don’t diagnose properly, we also cannot take intelligent action.

Here’s a little tool that you can use as a litmus test (it’s one of several easy-to-apply tools that I devised and teach that help diagnose harassment). I call it “The Twist”, and here’s how it works:  take one fact related to the situation, change it (=twist) and then see whether the answer to `was the line crossed’ becomes clearer.

Here’s an example based on a real-life situation:

A well-liked colleague has a strong French accent. It’s actually cute and endearing and everyone comments on it on a regular basis, mostly fondly. One day as you’re listening to that colleague’s presentation to a large group, another colleague whispers to you: “hey, what do you think – is she speaking English or French right now?”. You feel uncomfortable and confused by this comment, but not sure how to react.

This is a great opportunity to use `The Twist”! Ask yourself, “if this person had another type of accent (Chinese, Arab, Indian….), would it be okay to make these comments?”. If your answer is `no’, then diagnostically the line between `appropriate’ and `inappropriate’ had been crossed. The comments about the French accent should probably cease.

Typical situation to use The Twist might be:

When people are making fun of a male trait, twist it by asking “would we allow the same comments about females”?.

When it’s a joke or comment about low weight, would it be okay to make a similar comment about being overweight? .

When it’s a joke/comment about a generally-respected group (say, catholic), would it be okay if the same comment were directed toward a more vulnerable religion (Muslims, say, or Jews)?


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