Question – How Can We Deal with Micro Aggressions?

Answer – By Choosing to Make Incremental Breakthroughs in Our Dialogue

Our Shared Landscape

Living in a diverse world isn’t easy, but it is our reality.  When living more inclusively (putting diversity into action) it’s inevitable that we experience discomfort as we bring our whole selves to work with others who are seeking to do just the same.  Perhaps you realise the more you let our own phoenix soar, the better you have to be in both the art of collaboration. Thankfully we are now beginning to find breakthrough ways of holding the dialogue with our leaders when they are prepared to enable our organisational cultures to evolve.  Very importantly the dialogue needs to get into the issues with people who have not historically been heard and acknowledged: those from more wide-ranging ethnic backgrounds, and those who have ‘impaired’ physical or mental abilities, gender biases and sexual orientations which we are not familiar with.  Through challenges to our values and attitudes, we gain a much sharper learning edge about who we are.  A truly inclusive culture is shaped through dialogue, and dialogue requires insight driven by the purpose for a shared future where the participants are clear on who they are.  Then the work can begin to tackle the distractions of the zero-sum game which has always resulted in winners winning all at the expense of those who have no voice.

Collaboration Enables Understanding, Empathy and Greater Shared Wisdom

Whether we are in a privileged ‘in group’ (pale, educated and male) or a marginalised ‘out group’ (historically everyone else) an inclusive culture must involve everyone.  Our full diverse nature is mind-bogglingly complex.  A genuine will to seek understanding of the ground you and others are in is a vital precursor.  Shared wisdom allows you to access the empathy you will need to skilfully guide the assertive and wise actions necessary to be successful in achieving inclusion-focused goals. 

When skilfully coupled with sincere compassion for the wellbeing of all, we can think of this goodwill as a sophisticated form of ‘love’.  Many religious traditions provide extensive teachings on this type of a ‘love’ as a universal force guiding our decisions at the macro and micro level.

Skilful Leadership of Conscious Steps

Sweeping generalisations are not good enough for the nuanced Inclusion landscape.  Yes, there is now finally recognition that diversity in a fuller range of ways of being and thinking allows us to deepen our customer relationships.  However, when it comes to collaboration of working together, conscious steps need to be taken.

For enlightened inclusion to be nurtured a culture, of understanding and responding to the genuine needs and talents of marginalised groups, can only be driven with skilful leadership throughout the organisation.  These following essentials, regardless of sector, seniority or economic cycle remain the cornerstones for organisational effectiveness:

  • Honest self-awareness of strengths, blind spots and biases,
  • Taking responsibility for your own behaviour and having the ability to regulate it
  • Skilfully communicating with, and influencing, others
  • Targeting organisational impact that attends to both the transactional and transformational enablers

Over the decades’ countless thought leaders including Goleman, Schein, Warner-Burke and, most recently, Kahane have confirmed the value of this view.

Micro-aggressions and Sticky Cultures

However, what is particularly unique to the Inclusion lens is a requirement to flex our attitudes and behaviour to the situation with insight, versatility and sensitivity.  This can be a big ask; many fail as a light, more sophisticated touch may be required rather that the established programmatic change management we may know in our organisations.

If we begin to categorise micro-aggressions into conscious and unconscious, major and minor consequences, we are more able to work towards controlling the controllable.  By nudging the culture, rather than enforcing a re-set, we encourage it to evolve organically and more sustainably.  This is well-grounded culture change which feels authentic and is well-supported by those who depend on it.

When culture is derived from the very people that it concerns, as with well framed facilitation, the experience can be more like watching bread rise as it ferments during proving and is then allowed to rise in the oven, when the heat is on.  Conversely, highly directed change may result in resistance, erosion of trust and lack of genuine collaboration: the bread remains flat and hard.

Interestingly it strikes me that micro-aggressions that occur out of honest ignorance (unconscious yet potentially major in terms of the damage they can create to interpersonal dynamics), have great scope for moving the culture.  These are often best tackled with education, inspired leadership and familiarisation with the options for change and improvement.  If handled well, these microaggressions can result in memorable breakthroughs and culture shifts that move mountains (such as the engagement of diverse, disenfranchised groups) with the organisation’s culture for ever.  Out of Inclusion awkwardness a trailblazing culture can emerge.   

Leaders are highly exposed if they don’t tread carefully.  Empathic, purposeful coaching with those involved can be effective if direct, conscious and un-biased. When breakthroughs in relationships are required, a structured programme of facilitation may be essential to loosen individuals from their old ways of framing the world, of being stuck in what they believe to be true.

Enabling a Culture of Conscious and Courageous Dialogue

For an enlightened approach to Inclusion, what is needed is a flexible, conscious and courageous approach that is mindful of the community of wise souls we can all be.  Empathy, compassion and love are critical counterpoints to will, focus and the drive we need for healthy and honest dialogue. 

Differences of opinion, conflict and seemingly stuck relationships all share the experience of perceiving others as your Out Group.  When this arises, your Self identity may unconsciously be drawn to Option One, Exclusion, below as you are not willing to entertain Option Two, Inclusive Insight.

  1. EXCLUSION – A Limited Way of Seeing People in Your OUT Group

Encompasses a fixed, inflexible set of values, attitudes and behaviours that excludes those who do not share your race, upbringing, abilities, values or other biases and limits creativity and innovation for all parties.

  1. INCLUSIVE INSIGHT – The Evolved Way of Seeing your Expanded IN Group

Triggers the part of you that notices and chooses to consciously act, entering a ‘stretch’ collaborative experience, whilst still honouring our full potential.

With experience of working in diverse teams, I’ve noticed some rather predictable patterns in behaviour as we try to navigate the landmines and tip toe over the eggshells.  The reality Is that human beings don’t fit into boxes, however we all secretly like other people to stay in their boxes and not interfere with our boundaries.  We like to categorise each other as we make sense of the complexities of OUR world, not theirs.   These habits were essential to our evolution, but we can be more than beings struggling for survival. 

When people truly connect, a genuine click can be felt, and a radiating conscious and unconscious empathy may be experienced.  This is our work.  This is the pleasure of harnessing our higher power and our love.


1 thought on “Question – How Can We Deal with Micro Aggressions?”

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