Dealing with Microaggressions in the Workplace

Microaggressions at work are more common than we think. Here’s a guide to identifying and addressing mini acts of workplace microaggression.

Dealing with Microaggressions in the Workplace
Dealing with Microaggressions in the Workplace

Workplaces bring together diverse people of different ages, genders, orientations, ethnicities and beliefs. Due to that, work can also be a place where microaggressions happen constantly.

It’s tough to explain microaggressions because they can be so subtle that you can’t put a finger on the uneasy feeling it gives you. However, they can pile up over time to create stress and hurt relationships in the workplace.

Microaggressions at work can be confusing to spot. If you have been feeling this way, chances are that one of these situations has happened to you.


Examples of Microaggressions at Work

  • Microassaults

Imagine that a group of people at work intentionally don’t sit next to you during lunchtime, even though you are working in the same cabin. If this happens one time you might pass it off as a mistake but if it happens often you will feel isolated from your team.

This kind of microaggression is hard to explain because the behaviour isn’t overt. You might even begin to feel that you are reading too much into their behaviour.

  • Microinsults

You might hear people saying that “Women are bad drivers.” Women in the workplace often hear that they are too emotional or not cut out for higher positions. A microinsult can be a bias or prejudice rolled up into a casual statement. These biases and stereotypes are so ingrained in the culture that they invade our workplaces too.

  • Microinvalidation

Have you ever felt unheard of or invalidated just because of who you are? Due to Indian society’s view of religions, castes, gender etc., certain co-workers might act in a way that invalidates a person’s contribution based on their background.

For instance, the World Development report of 2013 found that Dalit members of society often hit a glass ceiling when entering jobs in the public and social sectors. Many such ‘filters’ at the workplace may prevent people from succeeding in their occupations. Microaggressions are just the tip of the iceberg.

What is the Impact of Microaggressions in the workplace?

There is a story about a torture device called the “dripping machine.” It slowly drips cold water onto the head of a person until they begin to fear and dread the process. There is no violence or pain inflicted on the subject, yet this slow and steady process can have a severe psychological impact.

Microaggressions are no different. When you feel the weight of someone else’s actions and words invade your thoughts it can be an example of how heavily it is weighing on your mind. This can lead to health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, and substance abuse. This might feel overwhelming and scary to think about.

However, the good news is that there is hope and there are steps you can follow to stop these microaggressions at the root.

How to Deal with Microaggressions

Take Time to Process it
Take Time to Process it
  1. Take Time to Process it

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out if you have been a victim of a microaggression. Make a note of whatever makes you feel uncomfortable no matter how minute it may seem. The problem with such behaviour is that it might make you question yourself. Rather than worrying if you are overreacting, start writing about the microaggressions.

According to cognitive-behavioural therapy, when we slow down and take time to think, it can help our emotions to settle. Writing will help you to slow down and process what has happened. to us it can stop us from being so hard on ourselves.

2. Share your Feelings with Someone you Trust

Whether this is someone at work or a trusted individual in your life it is important to voice the heavy feelings you might be experiencing. People who have faced microaggressions in the workplace may feel like they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Believe in yourself, and share your feelings anyway. Sometimes, hearing an outsider’s perspective can help.

This is an important part of mental and physical health because it helps you get heavy feelings out of your body. If you want to focus more on your mental health and well-being you can check out some of our tips too.

3. Build your Confidence

After you note down all that you have experienced, it will help to take some time for self-reflection. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How did the situation make me feel?
  • How has it affected my health or self-esteem?
  • What was the first thing that came to my mind when it happened?

A big part of dealing with workplace microaggressions is learning more about why they affected you. When you understand your feelings you will be ready to take a stand against the individual or group involved.

4. Be Direct with the Microaggressor

Rather than shying away from the topic and the person who put you down, it is important to take a stand. When they see that you are not backing down, and speaking with confidence it will help bring their actions into perspective. This can also throw water on the fire before it becomes too big to handle.

5. Contact your Manager and Report it

Suppose the aggressor did not react well to your directness, what should you do then? What if you don’t feel confident enough to speak to them directly in the first place? In these cases, you can report the incidents to your Manager. Since you have been noting down instances of microaggressions it will be a useful paper trail for you. Be honest, and clear, and don’t shy away from reporting these behaviours.

The moment that someone dares to bring up a difficult experience, a fire is lit for the ones who can’t do the same yet. I know that it might be scary and challenging to confront microaggressions in the workplace, but take courage and start one step at a time.

Check out this article on Workplace Bullying

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