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How to Deal with Microaggressions? Try "Microaggressions Jiujitsu."

A recurring question that I get from my clients is how to deal with microaggressions or those “snide comments” that hurt so deeply when on the receiving end. This question hits home as I have experienced this myself. It has happened more than once in my career but two times in particular really stood out given both by high-level executives who told me:

  • “I was so accomplished and well rounded for a Latina

  • “I spoke so well for being an immigrant.” (I was born in the USA but spent my formative years abroad) The list goes on and on.

These comments on the surface may not sound harmful, but they are part of a series of justifications that promoted the idea of me not deserving of respect and a seat at the [leadership] table.

Microaggressions are remnants from the country’s less culturally aware times as well as occasional peeks into racist undertones still present in our society.

How to confront microaggressions at work and beyond is a real challenge for many BIPOC professionals for a variety of reasons, mainly because first, there is usually a power imbalance, where we are usually at a disadvantage, secondly, it’s usually fast, out of the nowhere slap in the face; third, many of us we been conditioned through our upbringing to avoid confrontation and conflict so we “let it slide”

So what are some steps you can take to deal with microaggressions as they happen?

Through my many years of dealing with this issue, I coined an expression called“Microaggressions jiujitsu.”

For those not familiar with martial arts, jiu-jitsu is a form of self-defense, originated in Japan. Its“technique was developed around the principle of using an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it”

This is precisely what I suggest you do next time you have a microaggression thrown at you. To use the person’s energy and words against them, disarm them with tact and grace, rather than to internalize the message or fight them.

Step 1. Awareness and Understanding.

The first thing that you need to do when you have one of these “smart” comments is to quickly understand what is really happening. I find that identifying and labeling your thoughts and feelings usually leads to regaining self-control.

Remind yourself of the following:

  • The microaggression is a result of the other person’s paradigms.

  • A microaggression is not something that is tied to your worth.

  • This is a teaching moment for me and for the other person.

  • A microaggression is just an opportunity for growth for the other person and for myself.

  • A microaggression is simply a “fierce conversation” that will most likely- if you chose to- involving feedback.

Step 2. Pick your move. Disarm.

As with any martial art, you then need to decide what move you want to exercise on the other person. My favorite two moves are:

  • Paraphrase Summarize -Tell the other person the essence of what you just heard from them in your own words:

“I believe what I heard you saying is (summarize what you heard from them) is that right?

  • Use Mirroring - Repeat the last three words the person says. Use a curious-calm tone. Give them space to process (silence.) Here is an example of how this might work:

Person: “You speak so well for an immigrant”

Me: Speak so well for an immigrant?

Me: Silence

Person: "I mean so many people come to the states and never get over their accent but your accent is pretty smooth."

Me: It’s Pretty smooth?

Me: Silence

Person : “Look, I’m sorry if I made you feel like…”

Why these moves work so well is because usually the other person when they hear what they said reflected back to them, they realize that they are sounding misinformed, silly, or downright out of place and they will backtrack the statement and even apologize.

At which point you are ready to decide to get on on your next move.

Step 3: Decide how do you want to move forward

The final step in this process is to move forward. This can take many forms:

  • Forgiving the other person;

  • Continuing the education process if they’re receptive;

  • Providing feedback

  • “Laying down the law” if this is a subordinate, clarifying that the behavior is unacceptable;

  • Or simply moving on.

Each part of this process requires you to make a conscious decision on how to move forward. While it’s unlikely we’ll ever see racism completely eliminated in our lifetimes, we can take steps to minimize its impact.

Confront Microaggressions with grace

These three steps — awareness, disarming, and moving forward— are all deliberate. They’re designed to approach the situation tactfully and respectfully while allowing you to preserve your sanity while exercising your voice on your own terms.

I sincerely hope that we can arrive at a time where I do not have to teach these techniques or worry about the next “know it all” person that tries to put me and others down, but for now, you can use the “microaggression jiujitsu” techniques next time this happens.

Would you like to learn more?

As a certified Energy Leadership Master Practitioner (ELI-MP), I work with my clients in understanding the seven distinct lenses we all see the world at any given time. My clients learn how to recognize it in others and learn why everyone thinks and acts the way they do which proves invaluable in their carers and their personal lives. If you are curious to learn more about this one-of-a-kind assessment please click here.

My mission at Prime You Coaching is to equip mid-level BIPOC and women professionals with the mindset and skills to achieve their next-level roles. I do that through my coaching program Elevate, and Own, Your Voice, Where we will work from the inside out to facilitate your transition to that authentic and powerful you.

If you are ready to elevate and own your voice, stop feeling invisible, and take your power back apply here.


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