Microaggression and micro-inequities certainly do happen in today’s workplace and societal culture. Apart from reporting such incidents, reactions from recipients often include anger, frustration, shame, resentment, as well as avoidance of the transgressor.
And to be clear, I’m not talking about harassment or discrimination, which always should be reported on and managed with the help of appropriate resources and individuals in the organization.
However, when we’re looking at the bigger picture, not only of culture – but of building greater levels of genuine trust, belonging, willingness to contribute, and inclusion within our own lenses of perception, microaggressions can become critical ‘building moments’ for resulting positive change.
Enter The Principle of Charity – a precept or maxim used within general communication and rhetoric. It’s where someone embraces and utilizes a more generous spirit after having received, in this case, an initial microaggression. It’s also one of 23 lessons we teach in our Walking The Ridge online program.
Instead of feeling ‘triggered’ or assuming the role and mindset of a victim, when using the Principle of Charity the recipient makes the choice to interpret other people’s statements in their best and most reasonable intent.
And just so we’re crystal clear on this…in no way am I suggesting that one IGNORE a microaggression. Nor do am I recommending that a recipient, in a non-nonchalant manner, simply brush off the incident and move on. However, I’m also not suggesting that a recipient snub them – or choose to label their entire character based solely on that single incident. Judging and/or staying silent (but holding or building up resentment) can be every bit as toxic as delivering an immediate angry retort.
Biting the tongue may seem positive at first, but it’s often a poor segue to moving forward. If there are genuine feelings of underlying and sustained anger and animosity building, it’ll work its way into future conversations and engagements – and negatively impact relationships and perhaps even future business results.
So the next time that an initial microaggression happens to you, consider making it a moment of personal empowerment – through an empowered ‘investigation by communication’. And this starts with confronting the transgressor…but doing so in a strategic and calm manner.
Maybe that’s over lunch the next day or in a conference room later in the afternoon. Perhaps it’s a morning coffee at some point over the next week. The time between the incident and this discussion serves as a critical strengthening of mindfulness. The recipient will need to make their first opportunity and response toward the transgressor an effort with focus and preparation.
Of course, you tell the person that what they said was offensive to you. Be honest about how it made you feel – but in a measured way. Then, seek to frame this as to how THEIR actions or words could hurt THEM in the future. In other words, use this moment to present them with a genuine sense of caring ABOUT THEM.
After, allow them a chance to react and explain themselves – and do not interrupt. This is such an important point because you want to frame this as a positive interaction to not only serve as an example but to also strengthen your own skill of listening. And don’t worry – you will likely not only receive an apology…but several of them.
I wouldn’t recommend an email medium or phone call for this unless you absolutely feel you cannot speak with them face-to-face. Eye-to-eye contact is extremely important in this type of engagement. The biggest key here is YOUR genuine tone and delivery…and that’s why you should take the time to prepare your words and your emotions.
Obviously, if they react with hostility, treat you poorly in response, or thereafter alter their relationship with you in a negative way, especially with subsequent microaggressions, you handle that with the help of others in your organization.
Step back for just a moment. Recognize that there are good people out there who make mistakes and do insensitive things. Giving people a chance for improvement can often strengthen relationships and be its own contribution toward a culture that signifies greater inclusion, trust, and belonging.
In this process, you are also serving to strengthen many positives that we teach in the Walking the Ridge practice – mindfulness, patience, listening, learning, and healthier dialogue during differences.
The Principle of Charity is NOT about you giving in and losing…and their avoiding blame and winning. It’s about becoming empowered through a precept, where instead of one mistake ruining a working relationship and perhaps what could be a good friendship…it can become a moment of change to build off of it.
If you’re a diversity, inclusion, HR, and culture leader – this is an excellent lesson to share with employees. This powerful tenet allows us, at certain times, to step beyond our short-term emotional surge – or amygdala hijack. To recognize the power of a strategic moment of bonding, trust, and learning.
On another note, it also helps with getting the best out of employees and can be an employee-driven effort toward better retention.
Remember that improving trust, belonging, and inclusion doesn’t just come from good times and everyone always being positive. It’s what you and others do in the face of negative, on-the-fly surprises that are very real in everyday workplace culture and interactions. It can be applied in the workplace as well as in our personal lives.