Let’s bring kindness back in the workplace.
Let’s put an end to micro-invalidations and micro-aggressions — and all other overt or passive-aggressive behavior, for that matter.
Managers can lead the charge by introducing the antidote to nastiness: micro-validations (or micro-affirmations, as they’re called in some circles).
It’s necessary because 26% of people have experienced a micro-aggression — subtle, indirect, and sometimes unintentional acts of prejudice toward historically underrepresented or devalued groups — at work, a SurveyMonkey poll found. And 36% have witnessed it in the workplace.
Then there are the micro-invalidations — more subtle words and behaviors that negate others. Micro-invalidations include acts of omission (from a meeting, important information or credit for work) or backhanded compliments. Almost 30% of employees say they’ve fell victim to abusive conduct at work, and 49% say they’re affected by it, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute.
“Those little micro-invalidations that negate you or your role add up,” says Selena Rezvani, a leadership consultant, speaker and author of Quick Confidence: Be Authentic, Create Connections and Make Bold Bets On Yourself. “Any of these things in isolation might seem small or trivial, but if it keeps happening, it can mess with your confidence and your self-esteem.”
Counteract with micro-validations
In fact, one set of researchers say that just avoiding micro-aggressions and micro-invalidations — and offering training to help with this — isn’t enough to stop uncivil behavior. We also need to counteract it.
That’s where managers come in: Lead by example, help employees squash incivility, spread kindness, and build a better culture.
To avoid tearing down people, let’s start with understanding what micro-aggressions look or sound like.
What micro-aggressions look like
One of the biggest concerns with micro-aggressions is they’re often unintentional: people don’t realize their commonplace words and actions are hostile or derogatory to a degree. Similarly, some people don’t recognize their own incivility.
We can’t possibly identify all micro-aggressions, but here’s an example of several:
- Race/ethnicity/nationality: “I’m surprised your English is so good!”
- Gender identity: “Hey, can I get a few guys to help me lift some heavy boxes?”
- Sexual orientation: “Is your wife/husband on board with this?”
- Religion: “Do you really pray five times a day?”
- Socioeconomic status: “You don’t look like you grew up poor.”
- Age: “OK, Boomer.”
- Disability: “You are so brave.”
- Neurodiversity: “Well, he seems normal.”
Instead, we want to build up people in the workplace. Decades of research proves that when we highlight employees’ strengths and contributions they grow stronger, perform better and become more engaged at work. That makes them happier, healthier and more connected.
So here’s how to practice, spread and teach more micro-validations.
1. Acknowledge others
Sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked – especially because people are always preoccupied with their devices. But it’s important to acknowledge others when they walk in a room, call or speak to you. Nod, make eye contact and smile when you greet others.
When people speak, give them your full attention – whether it’s in person or in a virtual meeting. Put down your phone, close tabs on your computer screen and be present with them.
2. Respect identity
Be open to learning about people, their backgrounds, identities and preferences.
Then refer to them in the way that they think of themselves: Use their preferred names, gender identities and pronouns.
3. Show more appreciation
This is critical — and should be relatively easy — for leaders: Show more — and equal — appreciation to employees and colleagues for their contributions.
Share it directly and in realtime, telling them how their work favorably influenced, helped or impacted people and operations. Take the next step and highlight contributions and achievements to others at your company.
4. Set and support high standards
Set high standards for your team, letting them know you expect they’ll meet those.
More importantly, give them the resources, feedback and the support they need to succeed. Praise them when they reach goals. Don’t hold back constructive criticism when they don’t. Strengthen support so they overcome obstacles and barriers.
5. Validate experiences
Regardless of your efforts, it’s almost certain some employees at some time will feel marginalized. Whether they come to you, or you hear about or witness it, it’s important to recognize and validate their experience.
- Ask for and listen to their “what, why and how”
- Express care for what’s happened and how they feel
- Affirm their emotional reactions
- Help them reflect on the experience, and
- Explore ways to resolve the situation.
Note: It’s also critical that you consider if the micro-aggression or act of incivility is actually harassment, discrimination or grounds for a hostile work environment. Talk with HR to determine that — and then necessary next steps.