Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional verbal or nonverbal exchanges that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to another person based on their identity, but addressing them can help create an inclusive workplace. In this article, we will discuss how to identify and address microaggressions in order to create a safer and more respectful working environment. We'll also cover what to do if you commit a microaggression, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
What are Microaggressions?
Microaggressions are subtle, often unconscious, ways of expressing bias and prejudice towards individuals of marginalized groups or regarding protected classes. A number of personal characteristics are considered to be protected classes by the EEOC, including race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), national original or ethnicity, age (40+), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).
Microaggressions can take on many forms including verbal comments, nonverbal gestures, and/or exclusionary behavior. Some common examples of workplace prejudice and microaggressions may include: making assumptions about a person's abilities or capabilities based on their identity, making an insensitive comment about someone's cultural background, or avoiding conversation with someone because of their ethnicity.
Why Should We Address Microaggressions?
Addressing microaggressions is important because it can help to create an inclusive workplace where everyone can feel safe and respected. Ignoring microaggressions can lead to a work environment where it can be difficult to build relationships and trust. When microaggressions are addressed and resolved, it allows people to become more self aware and move forward with a better understanding of the employee perspective and experience.
Unconscious bias, or the unjust, unfavorable ideas we internalize from our surroundings, is the cause of many microaggressions. Popular microaggressions that go unchecked send out hostile and discriminatory messages about particular social groups to our coworkers, which reinforces negative social stereotypes and other biases on an unconscious level, in addition to being personally offensive and potentially retraumatizing. As a result, microaggressions can undermine society in subtle ways by adding to the vocabulary of discrimination.
What To Do If You Commit a Microaggression
It is important to empathize with the person who experienced the microaggression and to listen to what they have to say. Validate their feelings and show that you understand how they are feeling. Acknowledge their experience and be sure to maintain an open dialogue. Although it can be good to recognize the intent of the person who committed the microaggression, it is essential to separate that intent from the impact that it had on the person who experienced it. Recognizing the impact of microaggression on a person’s feelings can help everyone better understand a new perspective and for the person who committed it to take responsibility.
Make sure to also acknowledge and thank the person for recognizing the microaggression and bringing it to your attention. This shows that you are willing to learn and that you are taking the situation seriously. Once the microaggression has been identified and the impact it had on the person has been recognized, it is important to sincerely apologize to the person for the microaggression. An apology can go a long way in helping to repair the relationship and rebuild trust. However, also keep in mind that over-apologizing can have the opposite effect. For example, over-apologizing for accidentally misgendering someone can put the burden on them to reassure you that nothing is wrong. But, microaggressions can hurt, and having to say comfort someone else when you're upset might exacerbate their pain.
How to Prevent Microaggressions
Developing a better awareness of microaggressions in the workplace is an important step in preventing them. It is important to be aware of the subtle ways in which microaggressions can manifest, such as through language, body language, and assumptions. Developing an understanding of what microaggressions are, how they affect others, and how to identify them can help you to avoid unintentionally committing them.
Taking responsibility for your words and actions is also key in preventing workplace prejudice. It is important to be mindful of how your words and actions may be perceived by others, and to be willing to acknowledge microaggressions and apologize for wrongdoings. Additionally, having open and honest conversations about microaggressions and their effects will help to ensure that everyone is held accountable for their actions.
Finally, educating yourself and others about microaggressions is essential in preventing them. It is important to learn about the history and effects of microaggressions, as well as to become familiar with the various forms they can take. EasyLlama’s Microaggression training from our Diversity & Inclusion course suite can make a big impact on your workplace by helping individuals understand and identify the impact of microaggressions and how to create a more inclusive environment.
If you’re ready to learn more about microaggressions at work, check out our free course preview and discover how your employees can engage with our interactive quizzes, real-life video scenarios, and 100% mobile-friendly content.