Employer Resources

6 examples of microaggressions and how to address with them in a workplace

Microaggressions are subtle forms of discrimination, insults or slights toward a person or group which may go unnoticed or be dismissed as insignificant. In the workplace, they should be avoided at all costs because they are not conducive to a professional, respectful and productive environment. 

Not all microaggressions are intentional and can be hard to detect. Professional development training can make you aware of such things in all types of industries. Diversity and inclusion are inclusive strategies that can help foster success in your career. Understanding microaggressions and how to deal with them in the workplace can help create a positive working environment for everyone. 

Behavioral microaggressions 

Behavioral microaggressions are defined as everyday, subtle put-downs directed towards a marginalized group which may be verbal of nonverbal and are typically automatic. According to Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D., who is a leading researcher in his field, microaggressions can be intentional or unintentional. Sue points out that microaggressions “communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” 

Behavioral microaggressions often manifest in a variety of ways, including: 

  • Belittling remarks or jokes about someone’s race, gender identity, age, physical ability or other characteristics. 
  • Microinequities like ignoring employee contributions, avoiding eye contact during conversations or speaking to them condescendingly. 
  • Exclusion from certain activities or conversations due to a person’s identity, background or position in the company. 

While you may not think it’s a big deal, those actions can harm others and create an uncomfortable environment in the workplace. 

Tips for avoiding behavioral microaggressions 

If you recognize signs of microaggressions in the workplace, you can take action and speak up. Speak with your supervisor or anyone in human resources management about the issue. If you feel uncomfortable addressing the situation yourself, consider asking a trusted coworker for advice on how to handle it. 

Until you’ve had a chance to address the situation, you can also practice positive self-talk and remind yourself of your worth. 

Other tips include: 

  • Putting distance between yourself and the person making the microaggression. 
  • Speaking up so that others know what happened. 
  • Seeking out supportive allies who will stand up with you if necessary. 

While there is no perfect way to navigate these situations, keep a civil and professional attitude to show that you are a strong and capable individual trying to deal with an uncomfortable situation. 

Environmental microaggressions 

Environmental microaggressions are subtle environmental cues that can create an unwelcoming or hostile environment for certain people. Common examples of environmental microaggressions include: 

  • Dress codes that discriminate against certain body types. 
  • Signs that are offensive to certain groups or include symbols of racial oppression. 
  • Inadequate or exclusionary representation or policies for specific groups. 
  • Discrimination against people with disabilities, such as limited access to buildings or restrooms. 

By being aware of these factors and actively taking steps to create an inclusive and welcoming environment, you can help reduce the prevalence of microaggressions in workplaces and public spaces. 

Tips for avoiding environmental microaggressions 

The first and most crucial step in avoiding environmental microaggressions is to become aware of your own biases and the impact they can have on others. With better awareness, you can recognize and address hostile environments. 

Here are some tips for identifying environmental microaggressions: 

  • Pay attention to how your office space is set up. Are there any symbols or materials that might be offensive to certain groups? 
  • Analyze the language you use in workplace conversations, emails and documents. Try to use neutral language that isn’t stereotypical or biased. 
  • Be aware of how policies may discriminate against certain groups, such as people with disabilities or different genders. 
  • Be mindful of how your colleagues interact, and look for any signs of bullying, trolling or cyberbullying

If you encounter any of these behaviors or similar scenarios in your environment, there are several ways to address and prevent them, such as: 

  • Promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives​.​ 
  • Meeting with management to discuss steps and their current stance.​ 
  • Reporting misconduct if necessary​.​ 

Taking these steps can help make workplaces more equal and safe. 

Racial microaggressions 

Racial microaggressions are small, seemingly insignificant acts of racism that are often unintentional. They come in many forms, such as verbal or nonverbal communication, avoiding eye contact or physical gestures and can be extremely harmful to those on the receiving end. 

Here is a list of common characteristics of racial microaggressions in the workplace: 

  • Derogatory jokes centered around race, gender or other marginalized identities​.​ 
  • Mispronouncing names or using an inappropriate nickname​.​ 
  • Inferring stereotypes about someone’s abilities due to their race.​ 
  • Using language marked with bias that one race is superior to another, conveying a message of exclusion​.​ 
  • Misrepresentation by portraying a racial group negatively​.

Even if something seems small, it can still have a significant impact so be sure to stay aware and use your best judgment. 

Tips for avoiding racial microaggressions 

If you notice any of these microaggressions in your workplace, there are several ways to help address them beyond addressing them with HR: 

  • Address them immediately. 
  • Raise awareness and create discourse around inclusion. 
  • Create a workshop or host an expert panel discussion. 
  • Encourage your organization to create more inclusive policies like recruiting diverse applicants, offering anti-bias training and providing equal opportunities. 

While microaggressions may not be as obvious or overt as other forms of discrimination, that does not make their impact any less real. 

Verbal microaggressions 

Verbal microaggressions are subtle yet damaging forms of racism that take the form of words and phrases. They can be easy to miss if not wholly understood and often lead to feelings of exclusion, inferiority or discomfort. 

Here are common characteristics of verbal microaggressions: 

  • Using language based on stereotypes about a person’s race, ethnicity or nationality. 
  • Using terms such as “exotic” or “different,” suggesting an unfair impression of them as outsiders or strange solely based on their skin color​.​ 
  • Using offensive slang or derogatory language related to a person’s race or nationality​.​ 

These are all severe forms of microaggressions and need to be addressed promptly. 

Tips for avoiding or addressing verbal microaggressions 

It is essential to take action when faced with verbal microaggressions in the workplace. Here are some tips for avoiding them and creating a positive work environment

  • Understand power dynamics
  • Listen carefully and challenge statements when necessary. 
  • Encourage discussion about race and culture. 
  • Hold management accountable for enforcing change. 

It’s up to the entire organization to create a respectful, inclusive work environment. 


Microassaults are insidious forms of prejudice that are deliberate. They typically involve direct or indirect insults, name-calling or slurs that target individuals based on race, gender identity, religion, sexuality and other protected traits. 

However, some common characteristics include the following: 

  • Using terms such as “foreigner” or “alien” to describe individuals from different cultures​.​ 
  • Deliberately misgendering or using the wrong name or personal pronouns for someone​.​ 
  • Making jokes about a person’s heritage or culture meant to be degrading and insulting​.​ 
  • Using hurtful stereotypes to describe an individual’s behavior or characteristics​.​ 
  • Using racial slurs or derogatory language to address someone​.​ 

It’s essential to recognize intentional acts like these microassaults and take action when they occur. 

Tips for avoiding microassaults 

Creating a workplace that is free of microassaults takes effort and dedication. Here are some tips to help create an environment of respect and understanding: 

  • Create a space for people to openly discuss issues of race and culture in the workplace. 
  • Make sure that everyone knows the company’s policies related to microassaults and understands the consequences of such behavior. 
  • Make sure to keep an eye out for any microassaults that may occur. If you hear something offensive, don’t be afraid to speak up and challenge it. 
  • Listen carefully to the words and perspectives of others. If you suspect that a microassault may have occurred, take the time to ask questions to get more information. 

Beyond that, talk to your employer and human resources department about measures to prevent these situations. 


Microinsults are subtle yet offensive words and phrases intended to demean a person’s race or identity. Signs of microinsults in the workplace include: 

  • Using language with a patronizing or condescending tone​.​ 
  • Making assumptions about a person’s cultural practices​.​ 
  • Reinforcing stereotypes when talking about particular races​.​ 
  • Using “colorblind” language to deny differences​.​ 

These can be hidden in everyday conversations, emails and even body language. 

Tips for avoiding microinsults 

It’s important to take action when confronted with microinsults in the workplace. Here are some tips for identifying and addressing them: 

  • Pay attention to double meanings. 
  • Be aware of body language. 
  • Openly discuss cultural differences. 
  • Seek feedback. 

Remember, it takes effort and dedication to create a workplace free of these subtle aggressions. Increasing awareness and understanding creates a safer environment for all.