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How to Respond If You’ve Committed a Microaggression

People commonly commit microaggressions without even realizing it. If you have been called out for committing a microaggression, that doesn’t mean you are a horrible person. But it does mean you should take the opportunity to reflect on your actions and consider how your words (and the thinking behind them) affect — and may hurt — other people.

What is a microaggression?

Psychologist Derald W. Sue defines microaggressions as “the everyday slights, indignities, put downs, and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations, or those who are marginalized experience in their day-to-day interactions with people.”

How to react or respond if someone tells you you’ve committed a microaggression

If someone calls you out for committing a microaggression, it may be natural to want to immediately defend yourself or try to dispute the accusation. But instead, you should pause and realize this is an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve.

Take a moment to sit with this and digest what you’ve been told. You may be embarrassed about being called out, which causes immediate stress. Try to take deep breaths and relax to calm yourself down so you can respond, rather than react.

Don’t center this experience around yourself. Although you may feel uncomfortable, the focus should be on the person that was impacted by the microaggression. Remember, it isn’t about you. It’s about those who were hurt by what was said or done.

Listen carefully. In focusing on the person who was harmed, it is important to listen to them. They will tell you why your words or actions were so hurtful, so allow them to speak without interruption.

Respect and appreciate the other person’s bravery. Understand that this may be a highly sensitive topic and therefore it may not be easy for them to reveal how hurtful the microaggression was. Know that they are opening themselves up and sharing their experience with you. Taking that into consideration, you should receive what they share with listening ears and an open mind and heart.

Offer a sincere apology — and a vow to do better. Once they are finished speaking, look them in their eyes, apologize, and tell them what you are apologizing for. Thank them for bringing this to your attention so that you can do better going forward.

Research and learn. Continue the learning experience by researching on your own why words or actions like the ones you used were offensive and the history behind it. This will not only contribute to your own personal growth but will help equip you as an ally should you witness microaggressions going forward.

Continue the dialogue. Do a personal follow-up with the person. Let them know how the situation impacted you, what you learned from the experience, and how much you respect them. Thank them for helping to make you more self-aware.

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