Microaggressions Are Often Misunderstood. Here Are 5 Dangerous Myths To Be Aware Of

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Microaggressions Are Often Misunderstood. Here Are 5 Dangerous Myths To Be Aware Of

Written by: Dana Brownlee, Senior Contributor


Part of the challenge of eliminating workplace microaggressions is that they are so often misunderstood. Unfortunately, as workplaces are increasingly trying to learn more and build more equitable workplaces, these misconceptions can create real speed bumps that don’t just stunt collective progress but also fracture interpersonal relationships along the way. One of the best ways to reduce incidents of workplace microaggressions is to first take a step back to soberly confront and dismantle some commonly held myths. Here are five particularly tragic race related microaggression myths that everyone should be aware of.

Myth #1 – As long as I didn’t intend any harm, it’s not a microaggression.

Too many people fail to understand that racism is about impact, not intent. If a distracted driver causes an accident where passengers are hurt, their injury has nothing to do with whether the driver intended harm or not. It might be nice to know that there was no ill intent, but that won’t heal their broken bones any faster. Similarly, many people mistakenly assume that because their intentions were “pure” or they weren’t (consciously) thinking of race at all when they made the comment, it couldn’t be considered a microaggression — wrong. This is why it’s so important to check in or follow up with someone if you perceive they may have been offended or confused by something you said or did. If they were, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, but it may provide an opportunity for you to examine your behavior or thought processes and consider making changes in the future. Most importantly, if someone indicates they were offended, apologize using wording that focuses on them, not you, then make a mental note for the future. A simple apology speaks volumes.

Myth #2 – If I didn’t do or say anything, I couldn’t have perpetuated a microaggression.

Believe it or not, sometimes a microaggression doesn’t require words or actions. One of the most frustrating microaggressions for many people of color is simply being ignored or overlooked. It can be the absence of reaction that others seem to garner so easily. “Microaggressions can be what is not said,” explains Instructional Design Manager Elizabeth Leiba. “Your contributions are overlooked, or your ideas may not be celebrated like others.” Jessica Hartley, a Black advertising executive who left the industry at one point because she felt that it wasn’t made for people like her, shares a common refrain heard from people of color. “I’ve experienced several occasions where I was the only person of color in a workshop or meeting and my ideas were overlooked, then restated by a white person in the room — to which people then listened and responded.” It’s hard to overstate the chilling impact that it has on people of color to simply not be acknowledged.

Myth #3 – Microaggressions aren’t really a big deal.

Although “micro” leads one to believe they’re small, the impact can be significant — often described as death by a thousand paper cuts. “Simply put, microaggressions are deflating,” explains Co-Director of Cultural Diversity and Inclusion at Power Home Remodeling, Olumide Cole. “Not only do they negatively impact individual employees, but they also impact the work and business overall. With each microaggressive comment or action, it becomes more emotionally exhausting and harder to bounce back.”

Hartley explains, “No one action or word is going to have a huge impact; however, when those small ripples add up over time, it becomes an overwhelming wave for that person.” Diversity and inclusion strategist Lisa Ong reminds us that microaggressions often reinforce a sense of otherness or not belonging (for example if someone’s name is perceived as hard to pronounce). “It stresses a person out if they are constantly reminded that they are different, not part of the dominant group and not welcomed. That stress gets internalized over time and can show up as emotional and physical trauma over time,” insists Ong.  

Myth #4 – If s/he didn’t say anything to me, they must not have been offended.

Part of the reason why microaggressions can be so stressful is that they’re often viewed by the receiver as too small to say anything about so they frequently are swept under the rug, but the cumulative impact builds nonetheless. As a result, it can be quite common for someone to not speak up about a microaggression even if they were quite offended. “For a long time, the attitude in the workplace was that it was expected to take these comments in stride and let them go,” explains Michelle Bogan, Founder and CEO of Equity at Work. “Now we understand how harmful they are — they convey bias and can lead to discrimination in key career-driving decisions like who to include in a networking event and who to promote.” Cole points out that part of the added stress of microaggressions is deciding whether or not to speak up. “Each incident gets added to a running list of previous experiences, and over time it goes from being trivial to feeling like a big weight — it stops being “micro” altogether,” explains Cole.

Myth #5 – A “compliment” can’t be a microaggression.

Surprisingly, some of the most common microaggressions are comments that may have very well been intended as compliments. Examples include telling a Black colleague with a surprised tone that they’re articulate or remarking that an Asian colleague has no accent. “The employee thinks that they are giving someone a compliment or asking a genuine question but what they fail to recognize are the underlying assumptions that inform the comments,” explains Sheri Crosby Wheeler, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, Mr. Cooper Group. To avoid this gaffe she suggests asking yourself “Would I make this statement or ask this question of a white colleague?” to guard against unknowingly saying something that might be received poorly. Does this mean that sincere compliments are off limits? Of course not. What’s problematic are what Bogan calls back handed compliments. “It’s nice to be considered articulate and hard-working, but deeply disturbing to hear someone view you as an exception because of the color of your skin,” she explains.

Discussing microaggressions isn’t intended to instill fear or prevent colleagues from talking freely, but it is important for everyone in the workplace to become more aware of what they are and why they hurt. Ong asks leaders that she works with to harness the power of micro affirmations to help them cultivate cultures of belonging. She suggests using questions/statements like “Would you please tell me a bit more?” or “Help me understand where you’re coming from” to demonstrate compassionate curiosity – particularly when they find themselves surprised by or in conflict with someone else’s perspective.

Remember though that everyone makes mistakes, and it can be quite healthy to simply check in with someone if you’re afraid you may have said something that may have had a negative impact. While microaggressions can absolutely cause damage, that damage isn’t necessarily irreparable so don’t be afraid to make mistakes and simply work through them. While intent may not determine whether something is perceived as offensive, positive intention can be really important for the repair process so don’t be afraid to share your intention as you openly discuss the possible infraction. It does require some vulnerability, but it can also be the first step of a much more authentic, more intimate relationship.

via Forbes – Leadership “https://ift.tt/35Uaszf”

December 6, 2020 at 02:01PM

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Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman