How to Recognize and Respond to Microaggressions at Work

How to Recognize and Respond to Microaggressions at Work

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At work, we often encounter people who say or do things that make us feel uncomfortable. These actions can be hostile or offensive to some aspect of our identity. These hostile or offensive remarks are called “microaggressions.” 

Microaggressions can target many aspects of who we are, like our race, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic background. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how to recognize and respond to microaggressions in the workplace.

Microaggressions in the Workplace

If you’re the target of a microaggression, you might feel angry, upset, or even humiliated. It’s important to remember that these feelings are valid. 

There is no “right” way to respond to a microaggression, but there are some steps you can take to help you cope with the situation.

First, taking a step back and assessing the situation is important. What exactly happened? What was said or done that made you feel uncomfortable? Once you’ve identified the microaggression, you can decide how you want to respond.

There is no one right approach to dealing with microaggressions. However, here are a few considerations for when you are put in that situation:

When is the Right Moment to Say Something?

Consider the environment and be thoughtful about how to create a safe space for the conversation. Think about whether the conversation is best in the moment (possibly in front of other people) or one-on-one.

In some situations, an in-the-moment approach may be sufficient. For example, if someone accidentally misgenders a colleague in a meeting, a leader could say, “Let’s make sure we are using everyone’s correct pronouns,” and keep the meeting going. Doing this can make it less taboo to point out microaggressions and help to create a culture of positive in-the-moment correction when they happen. But no one likes to be put on the spot, and conversations are much more likely to turn tense if your colleague feels like you are calling them out. If you decide that a one-on-one conversation is best, pick a time when you can both give the conversation your full attention. 

Start by expressing your concern and why you feel it’s important to discuss this issue. Listen to what your colleague has to say. Avoid getting defensive, and try to see things from their perspective. By approaching the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to learn, you can create a safe space for difficult conversations and help foster a more inclusive workplace. 

What is your Relationship with the Person?

If you have a personal relationship with the person who committed the microaggression, you might be able to say, “Hey, you made a comment earlier that did not sit well with me.” However, suppose you do not have a personal relationship with the colleague. In that case, you may want to consider what you know about their personality (do they tend to be combative?) and history with uncomfortable conversations (are they generally approachable?).

You may also need to bring in other colleagues they are closer with. In any case, it is important to remember that you have a right to feel safe and comfortable in your workplace, and you should not hesitate to speak up if you feel like your rights are being violated.

If your relationship with the employee isn’t great and they are usually combative, the best thing for you to do is talk to a manager to help fix the situation. They will be more than willing to help resolve the situation to improve office wellbeing.

How to Respond to a Microaggression

The first step in responding to a microaggression is to decide if you want to say or do anything. There is no obligation to intervene, and sometimes it may be more effective to let the incident go. However, if you choose to respond, there are a few things to remember.

First, it’s important to remain calm and collected. Getting angry or emotional will only escalate the situation and make it harder to resolve.

Second, try to avoid making assumptions about the motives of the person who committed the microaggression. It’s possible that they were unaware of the effect of their words or actions, and approaching them from a place of understanding can be more productive than anger.

Finally, be clear and concise in your response. Explain why the microaggression was hurtful or offensive, and avoid getting into a lengthy argument. Following these guidelines can help resolve the situation calmly and effectively.

Have You Committed a Microaggression?

It can be challenging to know how to respond if someone tells you that you have said something offensive. The best action is to pause and use your emotional intelligence to assess the situation.

Here are some steps you should take when dealing with a situation like this.

Don't Overreact

When we are called out for committing a microaggression, it can be especially difficult to keep our composure. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to lose our cool and say something we later regret. We may feel defensive, and our first instinct may be to lash out. However, it is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. In most cases, committing a microaggression does not mean you are a bad person; it signals that you have a chance to treat a colleague with greater respect.

If we take a moment to pause, breathe deeply, and reflect on the situation, we can avoid reacting with emotion and potentially making the situation worse. By taking a few moments to calm ourselves, we can show our colleagues that we are willing to listen and learn from our mistakes.

Ask Questions

It can be hard to know how to respond when you feel like you’ve been wronged, especially if you’re not sure what you did to offend the other person. In these situations, it’s important to try to invite dialogue by asking for clarification. Saying, “Could you explain what you mean by that?” shows that you’re interested in understanding the other person’s perspective and resolving the issue.


In any workplace, it is essential to be able to have an open and honest dialogue with your colleagues, even when you may not see eye to eye on every issue. Unfortunately, this is not always easy, and far too often conversations break down because we are more focused on defending our own position than on truly understanding the other person’s point of view.

To have a productive conversation, it is important to listen to your colleague’s perspective, even if you disagree. Not only will this help to create a more respectful and collaborative work environment, but it will also give you a better understanding of the issue at hand. Active listening involves not only hearing what the other person is saying but also trying to understand their point of view.

By taking the time to truly listen to your colleague’s perspective, you will be better able to find common ground and reach a resolution that is satisfactory for everyone involved.

Acknowledge and Apologize

Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an offensive remark knows how hurtful and angering it can be. In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to respond in kind, but that will only escalate the situation.

If you want to defuse the anger and begin to repair the damage, you need to take responsibility for your words and sincerely apologize. This is not a time to make excuses or minimize the hurt you have caused. Instead, be honest about what you did wrong and commit to increasing your cultural awareness in the future.

With a sincere apology, you can begin to repair the damage and build a more respectful relationship with the person you have harmed.

Follow-Up with Them

The majority of these conversations take more than one conversation to work through. To allow for follow-up, you may say something like, “I would be happy to talk about this more in the future if you have any follow-up thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective with me.” By saying this, you are showing that you are open to hearing more and that you value your colleague’s input.

Colleagues will often appreciate this approach, as it shows that you are willing to work through the issue together. Additionally, it can help to prevent further conflict down the road.


If you’re regularly encountering microaggressions at work, it might be time to speak to a supervisor or HR representative. This can be a difficult conversation, but it’s important to remember that you have a right to feel safe and respected in your workplace.

Recognizing and responding to microaggressions in the workplace can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused, reach out to a trusted friend or family member for support. You can also seek out counseling or therapy services if you need additional help managing your feelings about microaggressions. Remember, there is no “right” way to deal with microaggressions, so do whatever feels best for you.

If you think you may have experienced a microaggression at work, what steps will you take to respond?

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