Microaggressions in the Workplace: How to Identify and Address Them

November 1, 2022


A group of coworkers sit together in the workplace, and a few of them look slightly offended by what another is saying.
Microaggressions in the workplace can affect your confidence and should be addressed by leadership.

Microaggressions continue to be one of the longest-standing threats to a healthy work environment. There’s nothing worse than feeling unseen by your coworkers, let alone undervalued and judged. Although microaggressions seem harmless at first glance, look closely and you’ll see that they’re deeply impactful. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important to own up to them. Here’s how to spot, address, and prevent microaggressions in the workplace.

What are Microaggressions?

So what exactly are microaggressions? If you’ve never heard the term before, it’s important to know its meaning. Microaggressions can be defined as indirect, subtle, or brief slights toward a particular group of people. Microaggressions are most commonly directed toward marginalized groups of people. They can be slights about gender, race, sexuality, or even age. They may seem harmless or even invisible at first. However, microaggressions are like mosquito bites. One bite hurts, but the same bite over and over again becomes intolerable.

Microaggressions tend to sound like jokes or subtle digs. They can even be masqueraded as compliments. In most cases, microaggressions are verbal. Even though microaggressions are usually well-intentioned, they can take a serious toll on a person’s mental and emotional wellness. Microaggressions come from a person who is unaware of their impact, and simply needs a proper adjustment. 

Awareness around microaggressions is slowly growing with time. Thanks to activists, progressive movements toward awareness, and continuing education in the workplace, microaggressions can be diminished. 

Microaggression Examples: Subtle Yet Impactful

What does a microaggression sound like in action? Whether you’re someone who is just learning of microaggressions, or you’ve been on the receiving end of a microaggression, awareness is key. To better identify and navigate them, here are some microaggression examples:

  • “You’re so articulate.” This phrase, typically spoken to people of color, assumes that the other person wouldn’t be articulate or well-spoken. Well-spoken is usually code for “white.”
  • “Is that your natural hair?” Comments, questions, or phrases about a person of color's hair further separates them as “other,” making people feel unsafe and unseen.
  • “Where are you really from?” This question perpetuates the notion that people of color are foreigners.
  • Assuming gender pronouns or identity: Gender is highly personal, and can be unique to each individual. You can ask before assuming.
  • Mistaking a coworker of color for cleaning staff or a delivery person: This behavioral microaggression unintentionally places people of color as “less than.” It assumes that all people of color are always in service positions.
  • “You people” or “your people”  These phrases once again degrade and separate a group of people.
  • “You’re one of the good ones.” This backhanded compliment leaves others feeling confused, disoriented, and hurt. 
  • “You’re so exotic.” Another backhanded compliment, this phrase separates the receiver and marks them as “other.”

How to Navigate Microaggressions

Continuing education and awareness are essential when navigating microaggressions. In many cases, lack of awareness and social understanding are what lead to microaggressions in the workplace. Companies can hold ongoing seminars to further educate their staff on diversity, inclusivity, and microaggressions.

If you notice a microaggression happening at your job or in everyday life, don’t be afraid to speak up. Pull the offender aside, educate them, and let them know why their actions weren’t acceptable. If the situation escalates, speak to a manager or HR rep.

If you’re on the receiving end of a microaggression, speak to your boss or HR rep to amend the situation. Those who are victims of microaggressions shouldn’t have to educate the offender the moment it happens. In many cases, microaggressions can feel confusing, and many don’t know they’re happening until after-the-fact.

With the right education and awareness, microaggressions can be eradicated in the workplace. Companies should strive to offer their employees a safe, inclusive, and healthy environment to work in.

Protect Yourself and Others from Microaggressions in Everyday Life

ASAP cares deeply about the success of administrative professionals nationwide. Learn more about our professional development training resources, or become an ASAP member today. ASAP is committed to furthering the career success of all administrative professionals, and that means creating a world that’s safe for everyone.

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