Dealing with microaggressions at work can be frustrating. Especially in workplaces where you’re the ‘only one.’
And being able to respond to them with class is a must-have skill for every future leader.
Here are 5 clever ways to respond to microaggressions in the workplace. And everything you need to know about how to deal with microaggressions.
What exactly is a Microaggression?
A microaggression is a subtle comment or action, whether intentional or unintentional, that discriminates against members of marginalized communities.
It’s a low-key insult or slight expressing racism, sexism, ageism, etc.
There are several forms of microaggressions, including microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.
We’ll talk more about these in the upcoming sections.
Examples of Microaggressions
Here are some examples of microaggressions in the workplace:
1. Assuming a woman doesn’t want to take on leadership responsibilities because she’s a mother
2. Acting surprised when a black person is articulate or well-spoken
3. Assuming people with disabilities can’t do anything by themselves because of their disability
4. Telling an LGBTQ+ co-worker they don’t “look gay”
Forms of Microaggressions
Microassaults are intentional insults or slights targeted at members of marginalized communities.
Microassaults can be verbal, such as name-calling. They can also be nonverbal or behavioral.
Examples of Microassaults
An example of a microassault is speaking with a lisp around a gay man.
Microassaults are outright disses meant to hurt the intended target.
A microinsult is a comment or action that low-key discriminates against a person’s underrepresented identity.
Microinsults typically are unintentionally discriminatory.
An example of a microinsult is a new mother being asked about her childcare plans when requesting a job promotion.
Microinvalidations are comments that downplay or invalidate the experiences of marginalized groups.
Microinvalidations dismiss the struggles that underrepresented communities face, whether intentional or unintentional.
Example of Microinvalidation
An example of microinvalidation is dismissing the significance of the BLM or black lives matter movement to black co-workers by saying, “all lives matter.”
How to Respond to Microaggressions at Work
Now that we know what microaggressions are, here’s how to respond to them.
1. Thank them for being comfortable with you
“I appreciate how comfortable I make you feel. But I wouldn’t recommend saying ____”
You’re probably thinking, why would I thank someone for insulting me?
Let me explain. If someone directs a microaggression to you.
There’s something about you that made them feel comfortable enough to do so. And having the ability to make others let their guard down isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
This is a classy way to call someone out by thanking them first. Then kindly correcting their poor behavior.
This approach works well when dealing with co-workers that truly have your best interest at heart. But got a little too comfortable with you.
2. Ask for Clarification
“Can you help me understand what you meant when you said____”
Microaggressions will catch you off guard. But it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Instead, give others a chance to explain themselves.
I call this the “seek clarification approach.” You can do this by gently encouraging your colleague to explain themselves.
It also shows an effort to understand where they’re coming from. Which makes you look like the bigger person.
Use the statement above and a calm tone to do this. No matter what, make sure your co-worker doesn’t feel under attack for their comment.
3. Encourage Learning
“I don’t blame you for saying that. We’re all learning. But I’d recommend educating yourself on ___”
Let’s get one thing straight. It’s not your responsibility to educate others about your culture or identity. If you wish to do so — great.
But don’t ever feel obligated to. That’s what Google is for. Instead, use the statement above to encourage them to educate themselves.
4. Follow Up Later
“I wasn’t a fan of that comment you made earlier about ___. Next time, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say things like that”
Sometimes co-workers will say things so shady that you’ll need time to gather your thoughts before responding.
In these cases, it’s best to stay silent and follow up later. Only follow up on the microaggression when you’re calm and collected.
This works well if you’re the type that’s easily triggered. No judgment.
5. Assume Positive Intent
“I’m sure you meant well when you said__. However, it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say”
As much as possible, you want to assume positive intent at work. Not everything is a personal attack against you.
Although it can feel that way sometimes. Remember, people can live sheltered lives that don’t expose them to diverse individuals or opinions.
While this isn’t an excuse for making hateful comments, try to give others grace whenever possible.
Use this statement to offer grace while correcting microaggressions at work.
Guide to Responding to Microaggressions
Should you respond to every microaggression? If you like your paycheck, probably not. Learning to pick your battles is a skill every future leader needs.
If you’re wondering what questions to ask yourself when weighing the consequences of responding to a microaggression.
Here’s a guide to responding to microaggressions in the workplace.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Responding to Microaggressions
- Am I calm enough to respond with class?
- Is my position at the company already in jeopardy?
- Is there an option to report this person anonymously?
- Is this person just trying to get a reaction out of me?
- Am I in a good place mentally and emotionally to handle the consequences?
How Allies Can Shut Down Microaggressions
Bystanders have the power to shut down microaggressions as well.
Here are some ways to help stop microaggressions in the workplace as an ally.
1. Use your privilege
If you’re someone whose opinion carries weight in your workplace. Use that privilege to speak up against those being discriminated against.
2. Address the behavior, not the person
Allies should avoid saying things that attack the person’s character. Instead, focus on correcting the comment or behavior.
3. Speak for yourself, not others
Don’t assume that others are offended by the microaggression by speaking on their behalf. Instead, speak in the first person when shutting down a microaggression.
Microaggressions at Work
Responding to microaggressions at work can be scary. Especially when you’ve worked so hard to get to where you are. And have a whole community rooting for you. Hopefully, this gives you a starting point!
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Over to You
What’s the craziest microaggression you’ve ever experienced at work? Let us know in the comments section on social @netwerkmovement.
Share this with a friend who’s the “only one” at work!