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Responding to Microaggressions: As the Perpetrator

| Senior Consultant  
Pin-ya develops and facilitates Paradigm’s high-impact trainings, drawing from years of experience in psychological research, teaching, and leadership development.


This blog is the fourth in a series based on Paradigm Reach microlearning videos focused on Microaggressions Training. In this blog, we will discuss what it takes to identify if you have committed microaggressions – whether it be intentional or not – and what steps to take to acknowledge the impacts of that behavior.

Recognizing When You’re in the Wrong

A lot of times when someone is told that they engaged in a microaggression or said something offensive, they might respond that “I didn’t mean it that way” or “they didn’t take it how I intended.” And, while our intent matters, the impact that our words and behaviors have on others matters more. 

How to Deal With Being a Microaggressions Perpetrator

No matter your intentions, being labeled a microaggressions “perpetrator” – a person who commits a microaggression – can feel bad. More than that, it can feel awful and condemning. People generally believe they are good people, and we want others to see that as well. It might even prompt us to become defensive or obsessed with highlighting what we intended to say, at the expense of understanding the impact that our words or actions have had on someone else.

Provide an Authentic Apology

Getting past the initial defensive response after being called out is important, in part because one study found that what most people wanted when they were the target of microaggressions was an apology from the perpetrator. So, how can you provide that authentic apology?

First, take a deep breath and pause. Remind yourself that even though it may feel really bad to learn that you did something that hurt someone else, part of creating a more inclusive culture is grappling with that discomfort. When you’ve accepted this uncomfortable reality, make sure to apologize to the affected person correctly: name exactly what you did, apologize for the negative impact of your behavior, and reassure the victim that you will work to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Acknowledge and Change Your Behavior

Most importantly, you have to actually change your behavior. You can’t, and shouldn’t, expect that things will go back to how they were with that person immediately, or ever. But if you remember that your goal is to make sure that the impact you have on others aligns with your good intention, that will help you stay committed to new behavior in the future.

Preventing Microaggressions in the Workplace

We all make mistakes and may end up being in this situation depending on how comfortable and confident we might feel at work, and it can be so hard to even acknowledge that we messed up. But, in truth, that acknowledgment provides the foundation for an honest conversation, an opportunity to rebuild trust, and a way for you to continue growing and learning. For more information and additional resources on responding to others’ or your own behavior and how to move forward, check out the materials about microaggressions on Paradigm Reach.

November 14, 2022

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