Microaggressions are everyday slights, insults, putdowns, invalidations, and offensive behaviors that people experience in daily interactions with generally well-intentioned individuals. Those people may be unaware that they have engaged in demeaning ways.
The thing is, there is nothing MICRO about microaggressions.
They are BIG and they HURT.
Numbness Toward Microaggressions
What’s even more hurtful is that they are so frequent in language and conversation that we are almost numb to the sound. We merely shake our heads and move on about our day. However, they stick to us like lint and carry themselves throughout our inner thoughts and behaviors. Furthermore, they tamper with our self-esteem, our need to express ourselves fully, and ultimately hinder us from walking in our full potential.
Microaggressions can negatively impact careers as they are related to increased burnout and less job satisfaction and require significant cognitive and emotional resources to recover from them.Harvard Business Review
Microaggressions in the American Workplace
So, how do you respond when you are aggressed upon? When your boss tells you, “You are so articulate and well-spoken”? Or when your colleague mistakes you for another colleague of the same race/hair and body type? Or how about when you assert yourself in a meeting, and are then deemed “overly passionate” or “angry?”
Consider these statistics:
- 26% of Americans have experienced microaggressions at work.
- 36% of Americans have witnessed microaggressions at work.
- 64% of women have experienced gender-based microaggressions at work.
- 24% of racial/ethnic minorities have experienced microaggressions at work.
And what about the number of microaggressions that have gone unreported?
Where do you draw the line when your personal character is attacked in your place of business? How do you manage your emotions, defend yourself, and keep your job?
Commit to the larger conversation.
Without continuous conversation about race, sexuality, gender identity, differing abilities, etc., we remain unaware about the presence and impact of microaggressions and how they show up.
Pause before you speak.
So much of our language is rooted in dominant culture. So when engaged in conversation, be aware of who you are speaking to and what you may be perpetuating when you speak to them. You are communicating with respect and dignity when you recognize who you have in front of you.
Try Connection before correction.
The impact of calling someone in instead of out will be beneficial to creating an inclusive work environment. For example, if someone has been mis-gendered during a team meeting, a leader taking the time to address the group with a gentle reminder, versus singling out the person who mis-gendered their colleague, will have a different impact on the group. At this moment, we model positive correction and bring awareness to something that may impact more than one person.
Also, don’t underestimate the value of scheduling or approaching someone one-on-one to address the microaggression, where larger groups are not appropriate. You cannot predict your own emotions or those of the speaker when confronting an uncomfortable situation. You may find that a one-on-one will make room for greater empathy and understanding.
Know the difference between intent and impact.
Not everyone means to be malicious in their comments. However that does not minimize the harm they may have caused. Bring attention to the gap between intention and impact.
What if you have committed a microaggression against someone?
Emotions are on high. When confronted, you could be caught off guard, embarrassed, or ashamed. The other person is likely also embarrassed, ashamed, or even angry.
Listen for understanding.
Remember intent vs. impact. While it may have not been the intention to harm, harm has happened. Take in the impact that the comment has made and listen to how it landed for them.
Harm has happened, even if unintentionally. Take responsibility for your words and the impact that it may have caused. The best apology is changed behavior.
Learn from your mistakes.
From what you have heard, take the time to educate yourself. Learn about the person, their identity, and the history of what you spoke upon.
Commit to your journey.
Commit to changing the language and calling in others when they commit microaggressions. Keep the conversation going. Continue to bring awareness to microaggressions when you see or hear them now that you have experienced them.
In order to truly combat microaggressions, we have to be intentional in communication with one another. Individually or in collaborative spaces, we must commit to the necessary, yet difficult, conversation with one another while also committing to personal education and revision of our daily speech to challenge microaggressions.