Was That a Workplace Microaggression?

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workplace microaggression

Was That a Workplace Microaggression?

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Things have a funny way of going full circle. Trendy behaviors, buzzwords, and even politically correct phrases. Are you delivering a workplace microaggression?

The term microaggression goes back to the early 1970‘s. Chester M. Pierce, is known to get credit for coining the word. Chester passed away in 2016, but his societal impacts live on.

Full Circle

Now, nearly 50 years after the introduction of the term, it is gaining additional traction. The term is echoed around college campuses, high schools, and yes, of course, it is rapidly emerging in the workplace.

Defining a microaggression may not be as easy as you think. In a society seeking to either find or ignore political correctness in every breath it may be hard to understand what is acceptable or what is not.

If you look up the definition of the term it doesn’t necessarily provide much clarity. Here is a segment of the definition from Wikipedia that seems to resonate, “[words, phrases] …whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.”

Workplace Microaggression

Are you delivering a microaggression?

Let’s assume you meet a person who may appear (visually) to be Hispanic. A stereotype, yes, indeed, but that isn’t the point here. After an initial greeting, you say, “Wow, you speak good English.” Congratulations (sarcasm), you just delivered one.

The same is true if you say, “How can I be a racist? Many of my best friends are black.”

Perhaps in the workplace you say to a baby boomer, “We have many recent college graduates, if you get stuck with any technology problems just grab one of them for help.” This may be a microaggression.

If you listen carefully, much of our workplace chatter, regardless of age, race, or gender, may have roots in this problem.

Some will suggest, “You can’t say anything anymore. You’ll get in trouble.” That may be dramatizing it a bit, which is another, different workplace problem.

Be aware, improve your communication, help others.


Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and culture expert. He is a five-time author and the founder of Appreciative Strategies, LLC. His business focuses on positive human performance improvement solutions through Appreciative Strategies®. Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

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