Microaggressions are seemingly small, subtle instances of bias or prejudice, usually in the form of comments, jokes, or questions. While not as easily identifiable as blatant instances of racism, microaggressions can still be just as psychologically damaging, especially in the workplace. The American Psychological Association offers the following guidance on how to deal with microaggressions, whether you’re the target or a bystander.
When you’re the target, consider who is making the damaging statement. If it’s a peer, you can probably address the issue with the person directly. Discuss why what was said was problematic, but refrain from assigning malicious intent to the person making the statement. It could be a matter of misunderstanding, and by talking to the person you might be able to shed some light on the issue. However, if the person is a superior or otherwise confrontational, you might wish to take another approach. Some people choose to not address the matter, which is valid. Others may choose to bring the issue up with human resources, particularly when it happens on a recurring basis.
If you’re a bystander when a problematic statement is made, feel free to speak up but refrain from speaking for the target of the slight. This can be construed as condescending and in a way is its own microaggression. You can also lend support in other ways. For example, if a person is constantly talked over or accused of being overly sensitive, help them find a platform for communicating. If microaggressions occur during meetings, ask for the floor and then allow the slighted person to make his or her statement on the matter.
Keep in mind that many microaggressors will become defensive when confronted. This is especially true if the person believes he or she did nothing wrong. Even when a person has clear biases or prejudices, they will be unlikely to admit it. However, it’s important for people to take responsibility for the hurt they cause, no matter their underlying intentions.