A recent article in the New York Times paints a picture of two very different experiences of medical school and working in medical fields; those who experience microaggressions and those who don’t even see them.
The article was written by Dr. VJ Periyakoil (@palliator) who has been working on Stanford University’s Project Respect, which is dedicated to enlightening and advising people on how to avoid making coworkers feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, and instead steer them towards “microvalidations:” small actions that help peers feel valued. The project goes into examples of microaggressions and how people nearby might be able to step up and diffuse the situation.
What Are Microaggressions and How to Avoid Them
Microaggressions are small actions that often don’t feel like they’re worth the trouble of calling out in the moment but can stick with the recipient for hours or days after the incident. They can build up to a hostile work environment, making (usually) women and minorities always feel second best in positions that they earned.
- Making uncomfortable comments about private lives
- Making jokes about sexuality or gender
- Making comments in which the peer’s abilities are questioned
- Not including peers in discussions or activities
The Respect Project explains that the people making such comments are often well-intentioned and are making the comments as a joke. Pointing out that such jokes are in poor taste can make it feel like the situation is turning uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember that the comment made the situation uncomfortable, not pointing it out.
The best way to avoid microaggressions is by calling them out. The most effective group for making this point are the onlookers, not the person being targeted by the comments. It’s not uncommon for the person making the comments to get defensive if the person they were talking to calls them out, but if the person being targeted has support it makes it clear that such behaviors aren’t welcome in that workplace. If the person continues to behave in such a manner, they might end up in a harassment suit.
It’s Time To Embrace Microvalidations
So what are microvalidations? Using context clues and a basic understanding of word structures, it can be deduced that they’re small actions that uplift peers. These are NOT comments about looks or ability based on gender or race (i.e. “you’re looking nice today,” “you’re doing pretty good work for a woman,” and “wow you’re so relatable even though you’re not white!” are NOT compliments).
- Smiling (NOT winking)
- Showing appreciation for work
- Complimenting/recognizing good work
- Including peers in activities (asking peers out on dates DOES NOT count)
Microaggressions can come from anyone, and anyone can be a recipient. Some groups are more likely to be recipients, but that doesn’t mean that anyone is exempt from the ability to feel harassed or discriminated against due to ongoing bullying.
Similarly, no one needs to be excluded from making or receiving validation. If you see someone doing something right, tell them. Diverse workplaces aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s important to embrace the challenges they provide.