Understanding Microaggressions

Contributed by AAoM’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

Microaggressions are things we say or do, sometimes unintentionally, that send hurtful messages related to race, gender, class, ability, or other factors. Research shows that 26% of Americans have experienced microaggressions in the workplace and 60% have witnessed microaggressions in the workplace. Microaggressions are harmful to the psychological and physical health of the recipient and can carry over into their personal lives, affecting relationships within their home and community. There is no one correct way to respond when you have been the victim of a microaggression and each individual may cope with and respond to microaggressions in their own way.

However, there are some helpful tips on how to respond to a microaggression in the workplace:

  • Ask for more clarification: “Could you say more about what you mean by
  • that?”
  • “How have you come to think that?”
  • Separate intent from impact: “I know you didn’t realize this, but when you
  • _ (comment/behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because____. Instead you could________ (different language or behavior.)”
  • Share your own process: “I noticed that you (comment/behavior). I used to do/say that too, but then I learned___________.”

If you witness a microaggression in the workplace:

  • Acknowledge what happened to the person affected
  • Be an active bystander and explain to the person saying or behaving in a harmful way why their actions had a negative impact, even if unintentional

If you are accused of committing a microaggression:

  • Try not to be defensive
  • Listen to the person with an open mind before responding
  • Apologize
  • Research and learn more about microaggressions and how to avoid them

It’s important that we are all aware of microaggressions and we all must be active participants in creating a work environment that is inclusive and accepting. This is why AAoM’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee has created a Guide to
Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send.

References and Other Helpful Links:
How to Respond to Microaggressions | The New York Times
3 Disability Microaggressions and Why They Matter
Racial Microaggression Experiences and Coping Strategies of Black Women in
Corporate Leadership

Current Understandings of Microaggressions: Impacts on Individuals and

Study: Microaggressions in the Workplace