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Microaggressions: What are They and Why They are Harmful in the Workplace

People have talked about the terminology “Microaggressions”. Many assume that they understand what it is, but do they truly understand the ramifications of them.


First, let’s define what the word means. Microaggressions are defined as insensitive statements, questions, or assumptions aimed at traditionally marginalized identity groups, but it can happen to anyone, of any background, at any professional level. The impact of those seemingly innocuous statements can have a severe impact on one’s physical and mental health, job performance, and career. Now let’s look at the different types of microaggressions. There are three types; micro-assaults, micro-invalidation, and micro-insults.


Micro-assaults are defined as deliberate and intentional slights or insults that are meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior, and purposeful discriminatory actions. An example of a micro-assault is a joke that mock or degrade a racial/ethnic group, someone who is disabled, older or gender identity. When called out about their behavior they may respond with “I was only joking!!!”.


The next microaggression is micro-invalidation. Micro-invalidation is defined as when someone attempts to discredit or minimize the experiences of a person, especially those that are from an underrepresented or marginalized group. For example, if a person is sharing an incident of disrespect and or discrimination and another person interrupts to say they weren’t discriminated against, felt disrespected, harmed, or it was not that serious. Or they start talking about their own experiences to contradict or gaslight what was shared, that’s micro-invalidation.


Lastly there are micro-insults. Micro-insults are rude, insensitive, or derogatory comments that subtly disrespect a person’s racial heritage, identity, gender, age, or disability. Examples of this assuming that someone isn’t smart based on their appearance, implying that certain groups/people don’t have morals or standards, mistaking their assertiveness or mannerism as being hostile or angry. Another is stating that a person from a certain group does not act according to the perceived stereotypes of that group.


Microaggressions can be verbal as well as non-verbal and both are hurtful to the individual and costly to the employer. Many times, microaggressions are not intentional and with education and communication, the action can be correct. So, what should be done if those methods do not work? Then it is time to get a supervisor, manager or HR involved in the matter.


Remember every employee has a right to a safe and healthy workplace and there is no room for bad behavior.

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