Communicate on the Same Wavelength



What is a microaggression?

Microaggressions are not only about biting comments and obscene jokes. They are also improperly constructed compliments that can cost your company a lot.

What is a microaggression?

Verbal messages can affect employees in two ways: motivate them to develop or lower their self-esteem.

Undermining the competence and value of an employee can happen when inappropriate jokes, questions and inappropriate compliments are addressed to a specific person solely on the basis of them belonging to a group or minority. These verbal messages usually refer to ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation and health status.

These can be a comment addressed to a man, which conceals both a criticism of his emotional reaction and a stereotype about femininity e.g., “don’t act like a woman.” It can also be an unfortunate compliment to praise the intellect of a black woman e.g., “you’re not like other people of your origin.”

This kind of interpersonal communication is defined as a microaggression (Great Place to Work, 2022), which psychologist Kevin Nadal defines as “death by a thousand cuts.”

Types of microaggressions

Microaggressions can be intentional and unintentional; explicit and implicit.

Implicit microaggressions are subtle and hard-to-define signs of a lack of tact. On the other hand, an overt microaggression is micro-managing an employee of a different ethnic race, based on the belief that their work results are inherently worse because they were educated in a different culture than the dominant one.

Derald Wing Sue (2007) distinguished three types of microaggressions:

  1. Microassaults
  2. Microinsults
  3. Microinvalidations


  1. Microassaults are intentional discrimination, name-calling and avoidance behaviors.
  2. Microinsults are subtle verbal and non-verbal messages that demean a person’s background or other aspects of a person’s identity. For example, suggesting that someone got a job only due to government emigration subsidies, and not the real skills needed for the position.
  3. Microinvalidations question the meaning of the thoughts, emotions and feelings of the person who experiences them – “you’re exaggerating, nothing happened” or “you couldn’t possibly know because you’re too old” (Great Place to Work, 2022).

Why should you pay attention to microaggressions?

Failure to respond to signs of microaggression in the work environment threatens the loss of Talent. As many as 7 out of 10 employees said they would feel nervous about microaggressions. For half of them, this is enough incentive to consider resigning from their position (Harvard Business Review, 2022).

However, employee turnover is not the only source of financial losses resulting from inappropriate communication within a group. Regular insults affect the performance and health of those stuck in a toxic workplace. They are more likely to complain of headaches, high blood pressure and difficulty sleeping (Dalton Villagran,2018). These physical ailments limit their ability to cope with daily tasks and affect team performance.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that racism and discrimination can lead to legal problems – like the case where Tesla was sued by the California Department of Fair Employment (Great Place to Work, 2022). This generates bad PR for an organization and, consequently, discourages candidates from applying for a job.

How to deal with microaggressions in the workplace?

Dealing with microaggressions in a team setting is a big challenge for a leader – the way in which they draw attention to undesirable behavior of co-workers is most important.

Skilfully conducted confrontation should prevent the formation of a defensive attitude and model good and responsible relations. This means that a calm, private conversation is a much better solution than a public lynching.

However, it should not be forgotten that microaggressions can be prevented primarily through a consistent, daily building up of awareness of such phenomena as racism, homophobia, ableism (negative attitude towards people with disabilities) and the appropriate induction of employees from minority groups.

Empatyzer and microaggressions

Although microaggressions are not only revealed in verbal messages – an irresponsible use of words increases the likelihood of its occurrence. Therefore, it is recommended to systematically analyze the methods and channels of communication in a team – especially in teams where there are cultural differences. This allows you to identify language based on stereotypes and find optimal equivalents for them (Harvard Business Review, 2022).

However, remembering a new cultural vocabulary can be difficult, which is why it’s worth using a tool like Empatyzer, which is aware of the cultural differences between different people and, based on that, suggests how to talk to them well.


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