Microaggressions: How we unintentionally injure our friends and clients

Everyone has experienced it, a brief back-handed slight wrapped in the form of praise. Sara Martin writes in this month's issue of Monitor on Psychology about the ways in which these sometimes unintentional acts leave lasting damage. She points by way of example to the "praise" that others have bestowed on Asian-American educator and author, Dr. Derald Wing Sue with repect to his "excellent" English language skills. According to Sue, such statements only serve to remind him that he is a "perpetual alien in my own country." 

As professionals, most of us do not intend aggression or ill-will towards our clients and colleagues.  It's just hard sometimes to understand what it's like to be in the other person's shoes.  What are some of the most common microaggressions you can look out for?  Here are a few suggested by Sue, Martin and others:

  • Praising the English language skills of Asian-Americans
  • Praising the articulateness of an African-American
  • Suggest that a position could be filled by a "qualified" member of any diverse group (as if that's an anomoly)
  • Speaking louder to someone who is blind
  • Commenting on the hairstyles, weight or attire of female employees
  • ignoring the partner of gay, lesbian and transgendered clients in invitations or conversation
  • Assuming that a female partner does not want to work on a weekend when a new opportunity comes along
  • Asking a Latino where he was born
  • Suggesting that "white men" view the world in a particular way
  • Suggesting that a man's taking paternity leave is not as legitimate as a woman taking maternity leave

Have you experienced a microaggression?  Let me know.  I would love to share an expanded list in a future blog.  

Thanks to Sanjay for the great photo.  

What do Lawyers and Pinot Noir Grapes Have in Common?

Last week I heard fellow lawyer/psychologist Larry Richard of Hildebrandt present his research on lawyer personalities to a conference of psychologists held in Napa.  When Larry describes lawyer personalities (he has collected data on over 40,000 of us), regular folks are often most surprised to hear that lawyers are as a group "thin-skinned."  

If you are a lawyer, it's more likely that you don't take criticism well and it offends you more than it does the average person. You also have more trouble bouncing back.  When it comes to criticism, these psychologists assumed lawyers could "take it" because lawyers "dish it out."  But the opposite is true. When outside the well-defined boundaries of the legal battlefield, lawyers are easily wounded by criticism so they avoid difficult conversations and conflict.  

Following Larry's presentation, the group went on a vineyard tour where we learned that pinot is the lawyer of grapes-- thin skinned and easily bruised.  So few pinot grapes survive to harvest that it has earned the reputation of being difficult to cultivate, arduous to grow and prone to rot.  But as any wine lover will tell you, pinot is worth the trouble.  

So if you are a pinot noir kind of lawyer, how do you survive to harvest?  

Bottom line--you must develop resilience.  The American Psychological Association recommends ten ways to do just that:

  1. Connect with others such as friends and family.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems by changing how you interpret stressful events.
  3. Take steps towards your goals.
  4. Take action to address the stressful situation rather than avoiding it.
  5. Look for the opportunity in adversity to learn about yourself and to grow.  
  6. Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  7. Maintain a long-term perspective.  Don't blow things out of proportion. 
  8. Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  9. Take care of yourself by eating healthily, exercising and relaxing.
  10. Identify other practices that help you bounce back from stress such as meditation, spiritual practice or writing.

What do Lawyers and Pinot Noir Grapes Have in Common?



  1. They are both thin-skinned and easily bruised.
  2. When carefully and fully developed to harvest, they both produce something extraordinary.