In my last blog post, Microaggressions Part 1, I defined them and gave some real-world examples. Check it out if you missed it. Now that we know what they are, let's talk about how and when to respond to these subtle offenses.
There are three main options:
Let it go. This has long been the default response to microaggressions in the workplace. Since they're subtle and they sound positive, we question whether it's right to feel insulted. In some cases though, it's better to just ignore the offense. Consider your feelings as well as the issue at heart. Also, weigh the value of your relationship with the offender. If the issue and the relationship aren't important to you, it may best to just let it go.
Respond immediately. If the issue at hand or your relationship with the offender are important, you definitely want to respond. Speaking up immediately involves calling out the offense while the incident is still fresh in everyone's mind. This is important for correcting bad behavior, but reacting quickly could backfire. The offender might get defensive, and you may risk being labeled as emotional or sensitive. A helpful immediate response could be a probing question, like "what do you mean?" This gives the offender a chance to clarify while you gauge their intent.
Respond later. Taking a more tempered approach allows you to gather your thoughts before addressing the offender privately. Be careful not to let too much time pass or you risk having to refresh the offender's memory. You also risk being labeled as petty or harboring resentment. Try disarming the offender to help the conversation go more smoothly. You could say something like, "this might get a little uncomfortable for you, but what you said about my hair made me really uncomfortable..."
For more tips on responding to microaggressions, check out this article from Harvard Business Review.
Next, we'll talk about what to do when you've committed a microaggression. Subscribe below and stay tuned for Microaggressions Part 3.