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Diversity and Inclusion

3 simple steps to stop a microaggression

🎁 Bonus resource for podcast listeners: if you heard Daisy Auger-Dominguez’s story about how her leadership team turned a microaggression into a powerful teachable moment on our podcast, visit our Workout, Set expectations: Address problematic language to run a similar session with your team.

Microaggressions are seemingly harmless but impactful everyday slights and exclusions that negatively highlight an individual’s Otherness. Research shows that the cumulative effects of microaggression are worse than blatant prejudice.

✋ How to stop them

There’s no getting around the right answer here: you need to call on your courage and speak up against microaggressions when you see them. Especially as a bystander. And especially as a leader.

We are all well-intentioned, and aren’t willfully trying to hurt anyone – and until someone calls us on it, we probably won’t be aware of the slight. The only way to stop it is to address it, kindly but firmly.

So, here are 3 simple steps to stop a microaggression:

If you’re speaking to someone one-on-one, immediately interject to address the comment.

If you’re in a group setting, divert the conversation by changing the subject. Pick it up with the person as soon as possible one-on-one to avoid embarrassing them.

…and then in both cases, ask “What do you mean by that?” (or a similar open-ended question). Give them space to explain and unpack their thinking – this will usually reveal to them their unconscious assumptions.

Give an explanation of what a microaggression is, why it’s not OK, and (perhaps most importantly) why it matters to you.

Keep it short and clear – a rambling explanation or tirade usually doesn’t go down well.

And appeal to logic by using some of the data we’ve shared here, e.g. “I know that to you that may have seemed like a throwaway comment, but research has shown that microaggressions are actually more harmful than overt prejudice.”

Finally, ask more questions to confirm the message got through.

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The bottom line?

Avoid blame, judgment, exasperation (…yes, this is hard!). Focus on the situation. You may need to park the conversation and send over some further info later – there are some compelling pieces in the below articles:

Microaggressions Matter

What exactly is a microaggression?

21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis

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3 simple steps to stop a microaggression

Have anything else to add? We’re always keen to hear your feedback! Drop your comments, suggestions, or whatever else you’d like to talk about here.

Fiyona Young Image 1 Fiona Young (she/her)

Having previously led Learning and Development for 3,000 people at Europe’s leading venture builder, Blenheim Chalcot, Fiona knows a thing or two about how to build high performance culture. As Content Director at Hive Learning, Fiona pioneered the organisation's leading guided content programmes which are designed to turn learning into action. Most recently, Fiona led the inception, development and delivery of Inclusion Works by Hive Learning - the world’s first diversity and inclusion programme focused on turning unconscious bias into conscious action - created from over 1,000 leading sources.