What are they?

Have you ever felt offended in the workplace by a comment that a co-worker or employee has made, but you might not be sure why you felt offended? Most likely you experienced a microaggression, but you didn’t know. It has happened to us all.

What are microaggressions? A microaggression is an intentional or unintentional commonplace verbal, behavior or environmental action that communicates hostility toward oppressed or targeted groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, people with disabilities, genders, and age groups (https://ncwwi-dms.org/resourcemenu/resource-library/inclusivity-racial-equity/cultural-responsiveness/1532-a-guide-to-responding-to-microaggressions/file).

Nowadays these microaggressions are more subtle and sometimes are dismissed by those who don’t recognize the impact.  The article “A Guide to Responding to Microaggressions” explains how many microaggressions are dismissed as compliments or by stating it as a joke, ultimately gaslighting the victim. This is when the perpetrator manipulates the victim into questioning their own sanity, controlling the victim’s sense of reality and convincing them that they are mentally unfit or too sensitive. In today’s workplace, gaslighting could be a member of your office doing something abusive and then denying it happened. This could be any interaction where a person manipulates someone into feeling they cannot trust their own memories, feelings or senses with comments like “you’re being paranoid” or “you’re overreacting,” or a standard one such as “everyone agrees with me.”

In fact, there has been enough research to show a significant relationship between microaggressions and intense psychological distress. In return this could lead to an increase of turnover and a decrease in employee retention. This is why when microaggressions are experienced, avoidance is the wrong approach to the situation, as has been done for years.

Examples of microaggressions

  1. Comments like “That’s so gay” gives the assumption that being gay is something to be ashamed about.
  2. Comments like “Your hair is so big today! Are you going to wear it like that to the client meeting?” to a black individual gives the perspective that black natural hair is unprofessional or not presentable.
  3. Overemphasizing to a Latina that she is “so articulate” subtly communicates that they did not expect her to be.

These are some examples of what microaggressions could look like but there are many more. I invite you to read “A Guide to Responding to Microaggressions” for more examples inside and outside of the workplace.

What to do as the victim

As a victim it can be intimidating to approach a perpetrator because they could be your manager or co-worker. You may also fear others seeing you as overly sensitive, or as Kevin L. Nadal states, being labeled as a whiner, trouble maker or the stereotypical angry black person. There are ways to respond when you know you have been a victim of microaggressions. Unfortunately, a targeted individual should always choose methods that will keep you safe and comfortable. If needed, you should also seek support from those around you who you trust https://ncwwi-dms.org/resourcemenu/resource-library/inclusivity-racial-equity/cultural-responsiveness/1532-a-guide-to-responding-to-microaggressions/file.

According to “When and How to respond to Microaggression” there are three different ways you can go about the situation. First is by letting it go. This is one of the most common ways to deal with microaggression, but you also have to recognize that by letting it go, more incidents can occur which could lead to a breaking point where the situation won’t be dealt with in a healthy or positive way.

The other way to deal with it is by responding to the situation immediately, ask them what they meant by the comment, and this challenges the perpetrator to recognize their offensive comments. This gives them and you the opportunity to explain how you might have perceived it and gives them the opportunity to apologize. If the situation turns into a discussion on how to word things correctly, this allows you to give them your appreciation for their willingness to clarify their intent and hope that they appreciate your willingness to clarify their impact on you. It is also important to know that some people do not do well in the heat of the moment and may not react as you may have thought.

Example what to say:

  1. Restate or Paraphrase: “I think I heard you saying______ (paraphrase comment). Is this correct?”
  2. Challenge the stereotype: “I think that is a stereotype. I’ve learned that _____.”

You can find more helpful examples here, “Responding To Microaggressions.”

Lasty, if you feel comfortable and safe enough to address these microaggressions, you can choose to respond later. By giving yourself time, you allow yourself to evaluate the situation and choose the best approach where you will feel comfortable and safe. Responding later also creates a private conversation where you as a victim and the perpetrator could express your concerns, finding a solution on how to move forward.  If at any time you feel dismissed, unheard, or uncomfortable you should ask someone to join you in the conversation.

Example what to say:

Separate Intent from Impact: “I know you didn’t realize this, but when you _____ (state comment or behavior), it was offensive because____. Instead, you could ______ (describe in different language or different behavior).”

Microaggressions are very common; this is why training such as communications, leadership and cultural competency are important. If you are a supervisor, you should consider evaluating your employees and recognizing how all of you can improve. If you are an employee, evaluate your work environment and question how the environment can be improved. By providing or requesting training, you create a respectful and safer culture. Not only is there a need for cultural competency for the employees’ well-being but for the company’s success too. Creating a healthy workspace where employees feel safe and respected increases their productivity and performance thus increasing the company’s overall productivity.

Does your company need this training? This is why Invista Performance Solutions is so successful in what we do. We provide training in a variety of topics such as cultural competency and respectful communications in the workplace. We assist you in dealing with issues like microaggressions and how to address these and other issues. We know the importance and want to help you and your company be successful.