Episode 7: What Are Microaggressions? And Are They Really Micro?

The Steps to Change podcast highlights workplace issues that trouble people on a daily basis and advises on how to stamp them out within an organisation. One such problem that continues to challenge people daily is microaggressions. From small comments that are misinterpreted to consistent behaviours that make others uncomfortable, microaggressions are complex in how they can manifest. People are often unsure as to how they should approach dealing with microaggressions. 

On this episode of the podcast, host Allen Liedkie is joined by Naomi Grossett, a project and design manager at Steps who has been working in the corporate world for over a decade. Together, the pair discuss the nature of microaggressions, what their effect can be in a working environment, and how they can be combatted by employees. As always, the Steps to Change process helps people to identify and understand microaggressions, putting them in a better position to deal with them in the future. 

What Is A Microaggression?

Our team define microaggressions as comments or actions that subtly, often subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally express a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalised group. It’s important to remember that anyone can be a victim of microaggressions and that they’re not always targeted at one particular marginalised group. No matter your race, culture, or creed, you might find that microaggressions affect your work life on a daily basis. 

People often mistake microaggressions for small actions that are partially aggressive, as opposed to someone being overtly confrontational or rude. However, this is a common misconception, as microaggressions can also be small comments, seemingly harmless, that build up over time and take a toll on an individual. For example, if people consistently draw attention to a physical feature that’s a result of your ethnicity, you might feel uncomfortable over a long period of time until it becomes unbearable. 

It’s vital for all organisations to be aware of microaggressions and to understand the importance of raising awareness amongst colleagues. If your staff have a broad understanding of microaggressions, they’re more likely to cultivate a comfortable and understanding working environment. Not only does this make your workplace more welcoming to current employees, but it will also make your business a more attractive prospect to potential new staff. The positive effect of recognising microaggressions cannot be understated. 

Recognising Microaggressions and Unwanted Behaviours

At Steps, we begin the process of helping people to recognise microaggressions by taking them through the See It stage. Our team conducts thorough research, interviewing employees and gaining an accurate idea of what their workplace is like. By doing this, we can put on performances through live plays, short films, and even virtual reality engagements that are accurate and believable. Once people see their own actions played on in from of their eyes, it becomes easier to understand why they might not be acceptable. 

By going through the See It stage as a group, employees will gain a greater understanding of how their actions impact others in the workplace and how seemingly small comments and actions can cause significant discomfort. The goal of See It is to bring people to a place where they can recognise their actions and move into the Own It phase. Owning your actions and microaggressions will allow you to move forward with a different mindset, which is vital for changing overall. 

During the podcast, Allen discusses the idea that people fall into three different buckets when it comes to microaggressions: receiver, aggressor, and bystander. Receivers are those who are victims of microaggressions, while aggressors are people who are dishing them out, even unintentionally. Rounding out these categories, bystanders are people who see microaggressions taking place. People in all three groups need to manage their actions in a variety of ways to tackle microaggressions in the workplace. 

How to Deal with Microaggressions

One way in which receivers can tackle microaggressions is by speaking up in some form. Nobody wants a confrontation, but sometimes it’s essential to speak with aggressors and let them know why their actions are unacceptable. You should always choose to have these conversations when you’re in a calm, non-emotional state, as it will allow you to handle the situation correctly. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with the aggressor, then it’s best that you reach out to a member of your management team. 

Bystanders who witness microaggressions have a responsibility to speak up if they see something taking place. It might be that the person who is being aggressive doesn’t realise that they’re acting in a certain way and upsetting another individual. If this person is never told about their behaviour, they won’t be able to take steps to change. Bystanders should also take time to so support and solidarity towards the person suffering from microaggressions. This work goes a long way to ensuring that people don’t feel alone. 

Finally, aggressors need to be open-minded and accepting of other people’s views and experiences. If someone confronts you to discuss inappropriate behaviour, it’s natural to be defensive initially. However, it’s important to acknowledge that something you’ve said or done might be offensive to another person, even if that wasn’t your intention. You’ll find that others are more willing to listen to your interpretation of events if you don’t immediately jump on the defensive. 

The most important thing for all parties to do is to be open with communication and sincere towards difficult conversations. Only then will you be able to Change It and eventually Live It when it comes to tackling microaggressions in the workplace.

Episode 5: What Provides An Effective Feedback Conversation?

Frame It

When it comes to giving feedback, it’s vital that you frame your point clearly when having the initial conversation. It’s essential that you have a clear idea in mind of what you want to talk about and a goal regarding how any potential issues will be resolved. There’s no use jumping around your problems. You must ensure that you’re clear with the subject of your feedback so that they understand where you’re coming from.


One of the most effective ways to help people understand the feedback that you’re giving is to provide them with an example. If someone is being given feedback regarding missing deadlines, having an example of a time when this happened will help to reinforce your point. Taking this step will also help people to understand exactly why it is that you’re having a conversation with them and providing this type of feedback.

Episode 5: What Provides An Effective Feedback Conversation?
Episode 5: What Provides An Effective Feedback Conversation?


As well as understanding why they’re receiving a certain type of feedback, it’s crucial for people to know why it’s important that they change their behaviour or actions. You can do this by explaining the positive effect that the individual will have by taking your feedback on board. People are more likely to take your feedback to heart and think of ways to improve themselves if they know the positive effect it will have on others or your organisation at large.


Finally, you can take steps to develop your feedback so that the individual that you’re speaking with can take more effective action in the future. It would be most beneficial to frankly discuss the feedback at hand so that they both leave with a mutual understanding of the steps that need to be taken. Remember, you will always be finding ways to improve your feedback delivery methods, so be sure to communicate with your staff members.

Episode 5: What Provides An Effective Feedback Conversation?

Learn More About Managing Microaggressions Today!

Attitudes towards microaggressions and the way in which they are dealt with are always changing. As such, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest workplace developments to ensure that you help cultivate a comfortable environment for your colleagues. By getting in touch with the team at Steps, you can learn more about the subject of microaggressions and take advantage of the educational programs that we offer. Reach out today to get started on your Steps to Change journey and improve your workplace today!