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How to interrupt Microaggressions in the Workplace.

Microaggressions negatively impact our workplaces every day, but we can all contribute to eradicating them. We've come up with five powerful steps for allies to take action.

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Microaggressions are defined as ‘subtle, often unconscious acts, words or behaviours that can communicate negative messages’ - often directed towards minority or marginalised groups.


While they may seem like small, throwaway comments or innocuous statements, microaggressions can have a big impact when you are on the receiving end of them. These individual prejudiced comments accumulate over time and contribute to minority stress, where being part of a marginalised group impacts a person’s mental health and well-being.


Left unchecked, microaggressions will negatively impact a workplace’s culture, creating an environment where employees from marginalised groups don’t feel psychologically safe or able to bring their full selves to work.


In this guide, we’ll discuss some tangible advice on how to spot, interrupt, and speak up against microaggressions - as we strive towards creating a more inclusive, respectful and welcoming workplace for everyone.


“I’m trying to be open and honest about the micro-aggressions and barriers that I may face within the workplace… If we don’t have these conversations in the workplace, then I can’t show up for myself, which then will allow me to show up for others. So I have to bring [all of my intersectional life experiences with me, as much as I possibly can.” - Chloë Davies

1. Spotting Microaggressions

Microaggressions can come in various forms, such as jokes or comments that rely on stereotypes, exclusion from group activities or discussions, or using language that makes assumptions about someone’s identity. These can be directed towards individuals or groups, and are often said by people who are ignorant to the fact that what they are saying is harmful or discriminatory.


“[My allies at work always remind to do this] work of explaining, patiently teaching, and transforming unconscious biases into conscious inclusion – or at least into consciousness.” - Jen Polzin

2. Self-Reflection

Creating a better work environment starts with ourselves: we must reflect on our own conscious and unconscious prejudices. Take some time to think about your past actions and language and identify times where you may have been insensitive to a colleague or contributed to a negative working culture. Having noted these instances, you can mindfully correct your own behaviour in the future and notice when others make the same mistakes. Let your experience shifting your own mindset inform how you address inappropriate behaviour in colleagues.


“No one is perfect, and we all have a duty to continuously learn and educate ourselves by considering how others may feel in specific scenarios. While we may not get it right every time, instances where have got it wrong present incredibly important learning opportunities.” - Ryan Zaman

3. Upstander Strategies


Interrupting microaggressions can be challenging, but there are several upstander strategies that you can use to speak up effectively:


Try being direct by speaking up and addressing the issue head-on. When using this strategy you should be mindful of your tone and delivery. If the person saying the microaggression feels judged or called out, they are more likely to react defensively and not take on board what you have to say. You can reference our calling in examples to ensure that being direct results in a teachable moment.


Distracting involves changing the topic or using humour to redirect the conversation. While this can be a useful method to stop harmful conversations in the moment, it is important that some further action is taken to address the behaviour afterwards, whether it’s calling in the person yourself or asking the victim if they would like to report the situation to HR.


Discussing invites others to engage in the conversation to share their perspectives. Inviting in additional external perspectives will also lend credibility to your criticism of a microaggression.


You can also delegate the responsibility of addressing the issue to someone else. This strategy may be necessary if you don’t feel well enough educated on an issue to speak about it or if the comment has personally affected you on a personal level. Having allies you can rely on in your workplace allows you to spread the weight of responsibility for addressing bigoted behaviour.


Sometimes you may want to delay and take time to reflect on the situation, before addressing it later when you feel ready to do so.



4. Using a catchphrase


Having a catchphrase prepared can make it easier to jump in and neutralise a harmful conversation quickly. There are several different approaches to catchphrases you can try:


Ask for clarification.

e.g. “What leads you to that conclusion?”

Create a learning opportunity.

e.g. “Let me offer some perspective on why that language can be harmful…”

Refer to company values.

e.g. “That type of behaviour doesn't align with our company culture.”



5. Deescalating


While upstander strategies can be effective, they may not always work, and people may react negatively to being called out for their behaviour. In such instances, try to respond thoughtfully and with compassion.


Stay Calm: Remain calm and professional when someone reacts negatively to your intervention. Getting angry or defensive may escalate the situation and make it more challenging to resolve. Refusing to meet their anger may also help to diffuse their emotional reaction more quickly.


Validate Their Feelings: Listen to what they have to say and acknowledge their feelings. Even if you don't agree with their perspective, making them feel heard will encourage them to take on board what you have to say.


“No matter how we ourselves feel about a situation, there are always the feelings of others involved too. In the same way that you want to be heard, it’s important to show them that you’re making an effort to see their side, and not responding purely from a place of emotion.” - Tolu Osinubi

Circle Back Later: Offer to discuss the issue further at a later time. This allows them to reflect on their behaviour and may lead to a more productive conversation.


Seek Support: If the situation becomes too tense or the person continues to react negatively, seek support from a manager, HR representative, or another colleague.



Conclusion

Everyone has the power to shape and influence the dynamics and culture of their workplace. While it may require some practice, interrupting microaggressions is a valuable skill that allows you to support your colleagues from marginalised communities and ensure they feel safe and respected at work.


If you’re looking for more ways to create an inclusive workplace why not check out our guide on how to better your pronoun skills or 7 steps you can take to become an active ally?


 

Did you know we consult with Businesses, ERGs and Change-Leaders providing bespoke corporate solutions? Through consultancy we design shared learning experiences, produce DEI insights and craft bespoke content that support individuals with strengthening their roles as change-agents within their communities and organisations. Find out more here.


We also organise FREE community events throughout the year! We offer a variety of ways to get involved - both online and in person. This is a great way to network and learn more about others' experiences, through in-depth discussion on an array of topics. You can find out what events we have coming up here. New ones are added all the time, so make sure you sign up to our newsletter so you can stay up to date!

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