December 14, 2020, by HR Search & Rescue Discussions over injustice and inequality have become a major factor in the national mood in the U.S. Workplaces must increasingly examine the presence of microaggressions and how they impact their employees. Microaggressions are not a made-up concept or a defense for the psychologically feeble who cannot take a joke. They are real. They cause real damage. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue has pointed to a growing body of evidence that microaggressions cause long-term loss of self-confidence and serious mental health problems. Victims of microaggressions are not overreacting or being dramatic. They are highlighting very real forms of harassment and discrimination. Knowing how to deal with microaggressions in the workplace is the first step on the road to eliminating them completely. How To Handle Microaggressions At Work Microaggressions are so impactful not because of a singular event but because, over time, they create a cumulative effect on the victim. It is essential victims of microaggressions never question whether they are overreacting or allow long-term microaggressions to slide. These are real attacks, and nobody deserves to suffer through them. If you are a victim of a microaggression, it is time to devise a plan of action. Determine If The Situation Is Worth A Discussion Microaggressions should never be ignored, but, equally, the fact microaggressions are often unintentional means angrily calling out someone every time it happens rarely helps. It could cause more problems or lead to being ostracized by coworkers for ‘overreacting. However, one excellent tactic for tackling the issue immediately is to disarm them. Asking “What do you mean?” or “Why do you think that?” can completely disarm the perpetrator. It is down to the individual to decide whether they want to take it further. Empowerment is not just about calling out microaggressions but being able to decide when not to call out a microaggression. This decision is entirely down to the person in question. Explain What The Person Did Wrong If the situation is taken forwards, discussions should be carried out privately. Calling someone out in front of a crowd may make the perpetrator angry and defensive. It could also turn other coworkers against the victim. Take the coworker aside and explain to them why what they said was wrong in a calm and controlled manner. Acknowledge the perpetrator’s frame of reference and listen to their perspective. Describe How It Made You Uncomfortable A lack of understanding is often why calling out microaggressions can lead to people going on the defensive. Humans are often hardwired to only see things from their point of view. Explaining to the person how their comments/actions made you feel uncomfortable can have a tremendous effect on future behavior. Decide How You Will Move Forward Confronting microaggressions is all about empowerment for the victim. Empowerment should be wielded when deciding how to move forwards after calling out a microaggression. Prioritize how you feel and the reaction of the perpetrator. Not every microaggression needs to be taken to HR. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to moving forwards. Do what you feel is right. What if You See Someone Else Experience Them? Eliminating microaggressions from the workplace is the responsibility of everyone, not just the victim. For coworkers who witness a microaggression, it can be tough to know what to do, particularly if that coworker belongs to a privileged group. Inform The Individual Of Their Actions Speaking out about microaggressions witnessed can go a long way to prevent an incident from reoccurring. Talk to the individual privately. Make it clear you are not trying to blame or shame them but to express that the microaggression caused discomfort to those present. Express that the relationship is highly valued and this is why the conversation is happening. Do not do this on behalf of the victim publicly, as this is also a form of microaggression. Tell The Recipient What You Witnessed Making the victim aware of the microaggression which took place can give them confidence to speak out and tackle the issue head on. Again, this should be done privately. Stick to the facts, and make them aware that you are aware of the situation. Refrain from talking down to them. Victims of microaggressions are not looking for sympathy; they are looking for empathy. Report The Actions To HR If Necessary If issues persist, do not be afraid to file a report with HR. This should be done from the perspective and feelings of yourself, not on behalf of the victim, unless they specifically want that. Tell HR of the microaggressions, how it makes YOU feel uncomfortable, and why YOU consider it to be a problem. Remember, going above the victim’s wishes is a type of microaggression. If they do not want the incident reported to HR, respect their wishes. Speak With An Independent HR Consultant Microaggressions are a serious issue, and many victims are unaware of what their options are. There is help, and there is support available to overcome the damaging impacts of microaggressions. For more information on how to deal with microaggressions, speak to a professional HR consultant from HR Search & Rescue.