The topic of microaggressions is a recent addition to the lexicon of terms that describe dysfunction within organizations. Last week, I attended a program on microaggressions given by Sady Alvarado-Fischer CDP. She is Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
Sady defines microaggressions as follows: A microaggression is an everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slight that snubs target people. Microaggressions can be intentional or unintentional. They communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target people. These slights are based solely on their marginalized group membership.
The spooky thing about microaggressions is that unless you are doing it intentionally (consciously) you do not recognize it when you are making one. You say something or make a gesture and have no idea that you are offending another person. You might draw a response if the dis is particularly egregious, but most of the time you are blissfully unaware of what you did.
Let’s share some examples of potential microaggressions and describe why they might be offensive to another person.
You walk into a room that has eight of your team members present. You say “Hi guys.” The problem is that three of the people there are females. One or more of the females might be offended by the term “guys.”
You take your two adopted children to a doctor’s appointment. The receptionist can see immediately that the children are of another race. She asks, “are those really your children?” You say, “yes they are,” and the receptionist gives you a dirty look.
You meet a man for the first time who says his name is Daniel. Later in the conversation, you refer to him as Dan. He corrects you that his real name is Daniel. You put Daniel in a difficult spot by assuming Dan would work just as well.
Microaggressions have the impact of excluding people
If we strive for an inclusive environment, we need to be alert for potential microaggressions. People will feel awkward about bringing forth their reasons for wanting to be addressed a certain way.
The antidote here is to have a culture of trust where there is no fear about bringing up preferences. Everyone in your organization must know they will not be punished for sharing their true feelings. That environment will have very few problems with microaggressions.
Be alert for body language
You can often pick up a shift in body language when you make a microaggression on another individual. Sometimes there is a change in facial expression. It might take the form of the other person turning away from you a slight bit.
If you sense that something you have said or done has made the other person uncomfortable, check it out with the person. You can do this in a polite way that has the effect of repairing some of the damage you caused. It also will strengthen the relationship going forward.
Microaggressions are around us every day, and we rarely get specific information about how we are dissing other people. Keep that potential in mind and be alert for the signs you see coming back. You can enhance your track record going forward.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.