Microaggression may seem like a trendy buzzword, but for many people it’s a reality being endured on a regular basis, in and out of the workplace. As stated by Gina Torino et al in Microaggression Theory, “Microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership (e.g., race, gender, culture, religion, social class, sexual orientation, etc.). These daily, common manifestations of aggression leave many people feeling vulnerable, targeted, angry, and afraid.”
What makes microaggression stand apart from other types of bad behavior is two-fold:
- Microaggression is targeted to a specific group, based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.
- The behavior, comments, or actions may seem innocent to the person committing them, but the impact over time is particularly damaging to the receiver.
As we all take a deeper look at our workplaces and reflect on our own values, it’s important to notice the culture in your business or the department where you work.
The most common reaction when microaggression is pointed out is denial, defensiveness, and deflection. This makes sense, as most of us are good people and likely have some behaviors to be considered with an open mind and a willingness to grow.
Three main tenants of growth and change are:
- Awareness – Understanding the types of behavior and comments that targeted groups find hurtful and demeaning is the first step toward change. The accumulation of behaviors and comments over time, and perhaps a lifetime, is what causes the damage to the receivers of microaggression. We need to be aware of the comments we make and behaviors we exhibit that may be adding to the cultural problem. Please see the link at the end of the article for a video showing examples of microaggression in the workplace.
- Discomfort – The second step for making any type of change requires getting out of your comfort zone. It’s certainly easier to keep doing what you have always done or to deny there may be a problem. It can be uncomfortable to look at our own behavior and the culture within our company or department. It can also be uncomfortable to have open, honest communication – to listen and learn from each other. Change takes a level of maturity and a willingness to set aside our own perceptions and hear in an open and defenseless way what may be a very different perspective.
- Courage/Action/Leadership – It takes a combination of all three to change behavior and culture within a company or department, and it starts with each of us individually. As Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Fight for what you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
I encourage you to seek greater understanding, have uncomfortable conversations, and listen without defensiveness. Have the courage to help foster an end to microaggression. Be the leader who helps bring about growth in the area of mutual respect and benevolence.
Kim Ellet is a certified professional coach and owner of The Growth Coach of Metro Atlanta. She finds joy in helping successful leaders committed to continuous improvement, be more of who they are, dream bigger dreams, and accomplish more than they realized was possible.