Responding to Microaggressions: As the Target

Pin-ya Tseng
DEI Fundamentals

This blog is the second in a series based on Paradigm Reach microlearning videos focused on microaggressions training. In this blog, we will identify what it looks like to be targeted by microaggressions and how you can respond and find support from others.

What Does it Feel Like to Be A Target for Microaggressions?

At work, we have many interactions with people on a daily basis, whether in meetings or casual conversation, via email or Slack, or even when we’re evaluating work and giving feedback. Intentional or not, in these interactions, we are sending messages to people about how we view them. 

Most people can sense the message being communicated in these interactions – what did that person’s tone of voice suggest? Why did they make that expression? Are they saying what they really mean? But people from marginalized groups – groups that are stereotyped and/or viewed negatively in society – may have an additional question: am I being treated this way because of my identity? 

Effects of Microaggressions

This concern is essentially about microaggressions: brief interactions that signal that a person is devalued or stands out disfavorably because of their identity. Microaggressions, no matter how subtle, can prompt self-doubt and a litany of questions, such as “Do I belong here?” “Can I be safe here, psychologically or even physically?” And, perhaps worst of all, “Am I making this up? Do I need to just get over it?”

All these questions get in the way of doing work well, and the repeated experience of questioning over time can contribute to mental and physical health problems. The question then becomes, how should a person who has experienced a microaggression – someone who’s a target – respond?

How to Respond When Targeted by Microaggressions

The proper response to microaggressions varies depending on the situation and what is best for you. In some instances, you may choose to respond directly. You might find that you are able to have a direct conversation with the perpetrator (the person who committed the microaggression), and if you feel comfortable doing so, go for it! A tip is to lead with how their behavior or words had an impact on you to remind the person that, regardless of their intent, their actions landed poorly. And, if you’re taking the time and effort to give this person direct feedback, it’s likely because you value your relationship with them, so remind them of that with a statement like, “I didn’t want to let this go, or not tell you, because it’s important to me that we’re honest with each other.”

You may also decide that a direct response isn’t the best course of action. Unfortunately, the biggest way that microaggressions undermine well-being is through rumination – repetitively thinking about what happened and how it made you feel. If you’re unable to confront the aggressor directly, know that your feelings are valid no matter what! Give yourself grace and assurance that you’re not just “making it up.”

Seeking Support from Microaggressions in the Workplace

You don’t have to process those feelings alone. Find trusted people that you can go to, either within your organization or communities that support you outside of work, to share your experience and perspective. Those trusted individuals should be folks who will allow space for you to process aloud without trying to convince you to think differently.

How to Process Microaggressions at Work

These are a few strategies for what you can do to process the impact of microaggressions – whether you decide to say something to the offender or not. But no matter what, remind yourself that you’re not wrong for feeling how you do, and focus on surrounding yourself with people who will help you process in the way you need. For more resources on microaggressions and how to handle them at work, check out the microaggression content on Paradigm Reach.

November 2, 2022

If you’re interested in more information on Paradigm’s Responding to Microaggressions: As the Target, contact us today!