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.  

Want great leadership? You get what you pay for.

Are you tired of starting new initiatives only to see them fall by the wayside?  Perhaps it is because you are asking for one thing but rewarding another when compensation time rolls around.  

Leadership expert Pat Asp says that the reality is you get exactly what you pay for.  Want diversity, loyal employees, happy clients, a harassment- and jerk- free work place?  (By the way, many of these "soft" concepts correlate to long-term economic success and sustainability for your organization).  Then according to Asp, you must reward behaviors that achieve just that:

If you put in on their W-2s, their hearts and minds will follow.

Asp should know.  She led business units of over 1000 employees and $300 million in revenues and served as Senior Vice President Strategic Management and Performance at The ServiceMaster Company.  Asp points to other proven methods for sustaining the workplace culture you value and making the message stick:

  1. Monitor and measure results and performance.  
  2. In meetings and communications where you share metrics, the metrics you use to measure the initiative must be kept in proportionate importance to other business metrics.  The agenda spot where you put the metrics for diversity, employee turnover, client satisfaction, or anything else you say you value, sends a bold message about how you really feel.
  3. When senior leaders (even the CEO and Board) don't walk the walk, you must address the gapsEVEN IF THEY ARE PERFORMING WELL ON THE OTHER METRICS (for example, generating profits).