How to Deal with Microaggressions at the Workplace

How to Deal with Microaggressions at the Workplace

We gave the incredible book Subtle Acts of Exclusion a read, here we share some of it's interesting highlights. 

The first chapters of "Subtle Acts of Exclusion" dives straight into the discussion on "microaggressions," which have garnered varied responses. It elucidates the authors' approach to objections surrounding this concept and offers a framework for understanding and addressing these subtle yet impactful acts of exclusion.

Chapter 1: There's Nothing Micro about it

The chapter presents four common objections to the idea of microaggressions:

  1. Scientific Rigor: Some argue that the concept lacks scientific validity.
  2. Free Expression: Others believe it encroaches upon free expression.
  3. Victim Culture: There's concern that it promotes a culture of victimization.
  4. Political Correctness: It's sometimes dismissed as an aspect of political correctness.

The authors, while acknowledging both agreement and disagreement with these objections, propose renaming "microaggressions" to "subtle acts of exclusion" (SAE) to foster inclusivity and clarity. They stress the significance of addressing SAE and provide a framework for categorizing different types, emphasizing their subtle, act-based, and exclusionary nature.

Framework of SAE Types

  1. You are invisible.
  2. You (or people like you) are inadequate.
  3. You are not an individual.
  4. You don't belong.
  5. You are not normal.
  6. You are a curiosity.
  7. You are a threat.
  8. You are a burden.

The authors shed light on how SAE often occurs even with good intentions, such as when people attempt to compliment, show curiosity, express comfort, or attempt humor. 

Here are some examples of each: 

  1. Compliment: "You're so professional," 
  2. Curiosity: "Where are you really from?"
  3. Showing comfort: "You're from Jamaica? I love Bob Marley!"
  4. Humor: "Can we get el mucho discuento?

Chapter 3: Interpersonal Action: S.A.E. Accountability

How to confront and lessen Subtle Acts of Exclusion in the workplace?

The chapter emphasizes the prevalence of SAE in the workplace and offers insights on how individuals and organizations can confront and mitigate these acts. Recognizing and addressing these behaviors is crucial for fostering inclusivity. Here are some guidelines for speaking up and responding:

As the SAE Subject or Observer:

  1. Pause the action.
  2. Assume good intent.
  3. Explain why the action was paused.
  4. Have patience but expect progress.

As the SAE Initiator:

  1. Acknowledge the feedback with gratitude.
  2. Replace defensiveness with curiosity and empathy.
  3. Follow through and follow up.

The rules include that SAE initiators show thanks for feedback they receive, substitute empathy and curiosity for defensiveness, and ensure that the conversation is followed up on. Stressing the value of presuming good intent and encouraging a "call out action".

Benefits of Having Productive Communications Around SAE:

  1. Increased feelings of inclusion for people with marginalized identities. People will feel valued and heard when SAE are addressed in a productive way. That feeling is critical, not only for individual people's happiness and satisfaction, but also for workplace productivity.
  2. More trust among everyone. Trust is essential for teams to be high functioning. It makes it so that people are able to be vulnerable with one another, to communicate openly with one another, to ask for help when they need it, to offer critical feedback when that is needed, and so much more. And the benefits of building trust around SAE will transfer to build trusting relationships more broadly.
  3. More collaboration across organizations. When trust is built and inclusion is increased, organizations will truly be able to reap the benefits of diverse teams with increased collaboration.
  4. Improved ability to give feedback on other issues. When people practice SAE accountability and can give and receive feedback on some of the most challenging and sensitive issues, they also learn skills that help in giving feedback about other issues. This is critical for teams to achieve maximum performance.
  5. A culture of transparency, interpersonal civility, and accountability. Cultures can sometimes take on lives of their own. When a culture around SAE accountability is started, it can organically work to feed and foster a more productive culture in general.

The first few chapters of "Subtle Acts of Exclusion" set the stage for understanding and addressing subtle exclusionary behaviors. By acknowledging the impact of SAE and offering a framework for identification, the book provides a crucial starting point for confronting these issues and fostering more inclusive environments.

How can Silatha help your company?

Begin this journey to a psychologically safe workplace with Silatha's 8 month Bias Training for all your employees to create real behavior change. Read more here: