Microaggressions are pervasive in the workplace, affecting the well-being and performance of team members, especially those from marginalised groups.
While efforts to recognise and avoid microaggressions are important, simply eliminating negative interactions is not enough. To counteract the harm caused by microaggressions, it is also crucial to practise micro-validation.
What is micro-validation?
Micro-validation entails small, positive actions that encourage or affirm individuals. This article explores the prevalence of microaggression and the need for micro-validation, and provides practical strategies to combat microaggressions in the workplace.
Microaggressions refer to subtle acts of exclusion that negatively impact individuals belonging to historically underrepresented or devalued groups. Common examples include making assumptions about someone's sexual orientation, mispronouncing names, or underestimating a colleague's technological skills. Microaggressions have been found to contribute to chronic stress and hinder career progression for marginalised individuals.
The power of micro-validation to combat microaggression
Micro-validations are equally subtle but powerful actions or language that demonstrate affirmation, encouragement, and belief in a person's potential.
They include acknowledging one's presence, validating one's identity, voicing appreciation for a person, holding people to high standards, and affirming leadership potential and status. These small, positive acts help address the deficit of positive interactions experienced by individuals.
Studies conducted by organisations such as the Center for Positive Organisations and the Gallup Institute reveal that highlighting employees' strengths and contributions leads to improved performance, engagement, and overall well-being.
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Micro-validations have the potential to foster a more inclusive and supportive work environment where individuals feel valued and empowered. Real-life examples illustrate how micro-validations can help individuals recognise their strengths, build confidence, and achieve professional success.
Five micro-validation practices you can follow:
Acknowledge presence: Greet colleagues warmly, maintain eye contact, and give them your full attention when they speak. These simple gestures make individuals feel valued and included.
Validate identity: Respect people's preferred names and pronouns, and be open to learning about their backgrounds and experiences. By acknowledging and understanding diverse identities, you create an inclusive environment where individuals feel seen and accepted.
Voice appreciation for contributions: Recognise and publicly appreciate the contributions of all colleagues, including dissenting opinions. By highlighting achievements and accomplishments, you counteract the tendency to overlook individuals' work and promote a culture of inclusivity.
Hold people to high standards: Avoid praising individuals based on stereotypes or low expectations. Instead, set high standards for all team members and provide challenging assignments accompanied by necessary support and developmental feedback.
Affirm leadership potential and status: Express confidence in emerging leaders from marginalised groups, offer coaching and support, and ensure their voices are heard in discussions relevant to their responsibilities. Use formal titles as a sign of respect.
Understand the impact of micro-validation: While micro-validations are powerful tools, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Tailor your micro-validations to individuals and the specific context. It is essential to ensure sincerity and avoid affirmations that lack supportive actions. Leaders play a crucial role in modelling micro-validations and inspiring others to create a more equitable workplace culture.
Case study: Addressing microaggressions in the workplace
Martin, a passive-aggressive leader, provides a real-life example of how microaggressions can have a toxic impact on team morale and productivity. In this case, Martin consistently displayed disrespectful behaviour towards two women of colour in his team. He would interrupt them during meetings, dismiss their ideas, and make snide remarks about their abilities. These actions created a hostile work environment for the two women, affecting their confidence, job satisfaction, and overall well-being.
The microaggressions they experienced took a toll on their performance and engagement. They found it challenging to contribute their ideas freely, fearing they would be undermined or dismissed by Martin. The constant micro-invalidations they encountered eroded their self-esteem and made them question their abilities and value within the organisation.
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By addressing the microaggressions and implementing micro-validations, the organisation demonstrated its commitment to creating a more inclusive and supportive workplace. It sent a powerful message that microaggressions would not be condoned, and employees would be held accountable for their actions. This case study serves as an illustration of how organisations can respond to microaggressions effectively and take proactive measures to prevent their recurrence.
Combating microaggressions requires a proactive approach that goes beyond mere recognition. The case study highlights the detrimental impact of microaggressions on team dynamics and individuals' well-being.
Implementing micro validations, such as the steps outlined in the case study, can significantly impact the work environment and promote a culture of inclusivity. The organisation must take concrete actions, establish support systems, and foster awareness to address and prevent microaggressions effectively.