Definition of intercultural – occurring between or involving two or more cultures
Definition of culture – (the way we do things around “here”) the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social groups.
Identity – Culture is very much rooted in our identity (Race, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic status, religion, nationality, ethnicity, age, etc.)
Supervisors must understand that they create the culture in the organization. Supervisors and senior C-Suite leaders must be able to lead related to racial and other identity factors. How we talk to each other will change how we work together. Your supervisors need these vital skills to grow. One key step is avoiding microaggressions when communicating in the workplace.
Let’s Define Microagressions
According to Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups. The difference between microaggressions and overt discrimination or macroaggressions, is that people who commit microaggressions might not even be aware of them.” –Microaggressions Are A Big Deal: How To Talk Them Out And When To Walk Away
What are some examples of microaggressions at work?
I always think we assume the best when we are engaged in workplace conversations. Often people want to connect, they want to be funny, or they have limited knowledge. Ignorance can make us come across as jerks when we are trying to be engaging. But some comments can be harmful whether or not that is our intention. We make mistakes, but we are accountable for words as leaders and members of an organization. The first step in addressing microaggressions to recognize when a microaggression has occurred and what message it may be sending. The context of the relationship and situation is critical. Below are a few themes to which microaggressions attach.
Alien in One’s Own Land
- Microagression: “You speak English very well.”
- Message: You are not a true American. Your ethnic/racial identity makes you exotic.
Ascription of Intelligence
- Microagression: To a woman of color: “I would have never guessed that you were a scientist.”
- Message: People of color are generally not as intelligent as Whites
- Microagression: “There is only one race, the human race.”
- Message: Deny the significance of a person’s racial/ethnic experience and history
Here are additional resources for microagression examples:
- [FREE DOWNLOAD] Comprehensive list of Microagression Themes & Examples
What makes microaggressions different from other rude or insensitive actions or comments?
Microaggressions are more than just insults, insensitive comments, or generalized jerk-like behavior. Microaggressive remarks, questions, or actions are painful because they have to do with a person’s identity in a group that historically has been marginalized. And a key part of what makes microaggression so troubling is that they happen casually, frequently, and often without any harm intended in everyday life.
Holding culturally competent conversations is not about being the word “police” or being politically correct. (Although, I will argue there are many terms and phrases that we need to retire for the health and productivity of our increasingly diverse workforce.) Words have always changed. We need to update how we manage workplace conversations. Holding on to a communication style that worked in the 1980s is as smart as working on the first 128k Apple Macintosh computer or Windows 1 operating system, some 35+ years after they were created.
For years we were told not to talk about race, identity, and politics in the workplace. After all the unrest of 2020, the focus on black lives, violence against American Asians, and continuing changes to how we express sexual identity, it seems like all we talk about is race, identity, and politics. But many organizations are still getting it wrong. People are getting fired for words and social media posts. Many want to boycott businesses that are insensitive to the role race and other identity factors play in society. When we think about developing workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion communication skills, we should always consider the following:
- How will these skills prevent disruption and misunderstandings in the workplace?
- How will these skills help me better manage team dynamics?
- How will these skills help create a more harmonious workforce that leverages each employee’s diverse gifts and talents?
Failing at these intercultural/identity conversations is costly. Getting it wrong costs you:
- work downtime.
- brand reputation and loyalty.
- reduced productivity.
- retention of key staff.
Getting it wrong could even lead to lawsuits. Organizations have to remember that language is important in negotiating and renegotiating power in a world where too many are disadvantaged, marginalized, and attacked, often first through words and expressions, then through actions. Leadership matters, and leaders need good quality DEI training. Getting ready for these complex conversations is as important as the conversation themselves.
Handling Microagressions at Work
I have worked with several corporations helping them to develop the protocols necessary for productive race and identity-based conversations. Also, I ensure my clients have the tools they need for both the planned and unscripted workplace conversation connected to race and identity.
Doing DEI on the “cheap” is not effective. Yeah, you do get what you pay for in business. Too many organizations try a piecemeal approach to DEI training with no clear, measurable objectives. Other organizations try to find a junior employee with no practical application of the skills they are teaching. Get training from a qualified diversity and inclusion workplace trainer with supervisory experience and a proven track record of getting results.
If you are serious about workplace diversity and inclusion training, are you prepared to talk the talk?