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How to Identify Microaggressions in the Workplace

Have you ever been in a situation at work where someone has said something offensive about some aspect of your identity and seemed to not even realize it? These types of interactions are called microaggressions.

Microaggressions are comments, questions, or gestures that target a specific aspect of someone’s identity such as their gender, race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, parental status, or any other aspect of a person’s identity. These statements can often go unrecognized by the perpetrator but can be felt by the victim and can have long-term effects on the person’s emotional well-being. The term comes from the idea that small blows to a person’s identity build over time to substantially damage a person’s well-being. Microaggressions are damaging in any situation but can be especially harmful when they happen in the workplace.      

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What Are the Different Types of Microaggressions?

There are three main types of microaggressions: Microassaults, Microinvalidation, and Microinsults.

  1. Microassaults: Intentional verbal or non-verbal slights, comments, and actions that intend to hurt the victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior, or discriminatory actions.
  2. Microinvalidation: Behaviors or verbal comments that aim to discredit the thoughts, feelings, or experiences of a person from a minority group.
  3. Microinsults: Communications that rudely aim to belittle a person’s racial heritage or identity.

How to Recognize Microaggressions at the Workplace

It is important to learn how to recognize microaggressions to increase your self-awareness and be able to educate others if you see them happening. Many people who say or do things that are microaggressions don’t realize they are doing it because of their implicit bias. Verbal microaggressions can be common sayings that are rooted in a derogatory history, making assumptions about someone’s identity, or backhanded compliments such as:

  • “Man up” implies a gender has more strength or capability.
  • “I didn’t know you were Jewish – you don’t look Jewish” assuming someone’s religion based on their race.
  • “You’re so articulate for a person from…” making someone feel like an outsider.

Signs of non-verbal microaggressions include avoidant behaviors, body language, and dismissive actions. For example:

  • Moving your purse away from someone in an elevator because of their race.
  • Rolling your eyes at a colleague when they are talking in a meeting.
  • Continually speaking over a colleague in a meeting.

No matter the type of microaggression, they are all damaging to a person’s wellness and build over time to become a bigger problem.

The Impact of Microaggressions at Work

Microaggressions take an emotional and psychological toll on the victim and make their work life miserable. Since microaggressions are known as “death by a thousand cuts”, their impact grows more significant over time. If not stopped, this can lead to talented employees with an impacted morale or even leave a company altogether. Organizations must take action to mitigate microaggressions and prevent all workplace discrimination. Companies and perpetrators can reap the consequences of not educating and protecting employees by facing harassment lawsuits. If you have been a victim of microaggressions or other forms of harassment at work, Orange County workplace harassment attorneys can help you protect your rights and get the justice you deserve. Continual learning and awareness are key in preventing microaggressions and ensuring everyone feels included in the workplace.

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