Micro-inequities (also called micro-aggressions) are subtle, sometimes seemingly harmless, comments or actions that devalue others. No matter how kind or aware we may consider ourselves to be, we all have the capacity to harmfully impact others by practicing micro-inequities. The challenge with micro-inequities is they often are not meant to intentionally cause hurt or harm, and they arise from a semi-conscious state.
Micro-inequities are subtle, often unconscious, messages that devalue, discourage and impair workplace performance. They are conveyed through facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, choice of words, nuance and syntax. Repeated sending, or receiving, of micro-inequities can erode commitment and loyalty and have the cumulative effect of diminishing overall workforce performance. As they are characteristically subtle, “only the most astute and aware communicators recognize how [micro-messages] are received and perceived,” as described in The Star-Ledger article, “Micro-messages Matter” by Steve Adubato.
These subtle messages, sent either consciously or unconsciously, can reveal more about the true nature of a relationship than the surface words alone. They function as the core of how unconscious bias is communicated and how workplace inclusion is experienced. In the Profiles in Diversity Journal article “The DNA of Culture Change”, Joyce Tucker states, “Organizations have done a great job at controlling the big, easily-seen offensive behaviors but have been somewhat blind to what is rarely observed. Organizations have done great work at controlling the few elephants, while being overrun by a phalanx of ants. Listening with your arms folded, losing eye contact with the person you’re speaking with, or even how you move your lips to shape a smile—in any given conversation, we may send hundreds of messages, often without even saying a word. Just as television or radio waves surround us yet we never see them, these micro-messages are just as pervasive and nearly as difficult to discern.
Here are a few examples:
Continuously mispronouncing or misspelling someone’s name
Rolling your eyes even when you think no one is looking
Cutting down ideas before they can be entertained
Sarcasm and disparaging jest
Interrupting or completing sentences for people
Acting disinterested in meetings
Micro–affirmations are subtle or apparently small acknowledgements of a person’s value and accomplishments. They may take the shape of public recognition of the person, “opening a door,” referring positively to the work of a person, commending someone on the spot, or making a happy introduction
Aside from being aware of our own tendencies, the best way to combat our potential to devalue others through micro-inequities is to practice micro-affirmations. These are subtle, but high impact, words and actions that affirm another’s value. Examples include:
Holding the door for someone
Introducing people to each other
Listening without interrupting
Acknowledging and making sure you fully understand someone’s idea or opinion
Acknowledging someone’s good work to others
Sometimes the simplest things can be the most challenging, but keep up! If we continue to become aware of our tendencies and keep practicing positive behaviors then we will begin to notice the benefits we offer others as well as the benefits we receive ourselves. Let’s work together for better outcomes!