Microaggression – I finally have a name for a very real and rapidly growing problem. One I have experienced on numerous occassions over the last few years.


Thank you to Columbia University professor of psychology and education Dr. Derald Wing Sue for his work in this area (and the above video). I look forward to reading his book. Also thank you to Gayle Kiser. Director of Communications and Marketing, CUPA-HR,  for her blog post I found that introduced me to the word.

My own recent experiences from being called ‘hon” when paying for food at several coffee shops and restaurants by the young woman behind the counter, being called ‘nurturing’, by women, in a business situations, receiving that up and down look of disdain when walking into a room, to a group closing ranks when I approach (what I call the ‘great shunning’), ad infinitum, the incidence of microaggression is on the increase. As Dr. Sue points out, these actions are often unconscious and are non-gender, race (and I’ll add age) specific. They are, however, very real and, in effect, have become proactive, societal judge, jury and executioner statements.

Forget R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Perpetrated as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression, they act as little, micro hate crimes of person against person. Now seemingly embedded in all aspects of our society, these verbal or behavioral indignities communicate hostile, derogatory, or demeaning slights toward people. [2]

We all do it in some way. The first step to overcoming our unconscious behaviors is awareness in ourselves. Be mindful of our own reactions, acknowledge, review and question our own intentions, be purposeful in our future actions and support others who endeavor to  produce different outcomes.

Reprogramming our reactive brain is difficult. We can be defensive about these behaviors and are, too often in business situations, commanded to ignore what is happening to us or others with the common enjoiner not take this as personal. A good example of the latter of three categories in Dr. Sue’s microaggression taxonomy:

  • Microassaults: Conscious and intentional actions or slurs.
  • Microinsults: Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s heritage or identity.
  • Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person.

Workplace microaggression is a destructive and productivity defeating liability in all of its manifestations. Belittling and demeaning a fellow worker demeans and belittles the entire organization and it’s culture. Dissolution allows all to work with their priorities aligned, capabilities supported and possibilities allowed to grow. This is the only bottom line that counts and produces sustainable profitability at every level.

As Dr. Sue concludes in the video above, “Microaggressions are unconscious manifestations of a world view of inclusion/exclusion, superiority/inferiority. Thus, our major task is to make the invisible visible … Be an ally. Stand personally against all forms of bias and discrimination …. If we are to become a fair, just and humane society, I hope each and every one of you will join me in this important journey.” My hand is raised. Is yours?

PS: Here is another link to the video if it didn’t pop up on your browser.