Microaggressions in Verbal Communication: Examples & Impacts

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Microaggressions can be extremely hurtful and also really hard to identify and respond to. This lesson discusses the ways that microaggressions occur in verbal communication and how they impact their victims.

Understanding Verbal Microaggressions

Lucas has been working at the same company for about ten years, and most of the time, he likes his job. As a gay man, Lucas is out in the workplace. At first, this felt like a big deal to him, but now he is fairly accustomed to it. Lucas is one of the only African Americans at his company, and sometimes he does wish for a more diverse pool of colleagues.

Recently, though, Lucas has become aware of the microaggressions he experiences sometimes at work. Microaggressions are subtle, sometimes minor acts of discrimination. They add up over time and profoundly impact Lucas' comfort level at work.

Lucas knows that most microaggressions grow out of unconscious bias, or preconceived notions about other people and groups that the perpetrator might not even be aware of. When he thinks about it, Lucas realizes he, too, might sometimes perpetrate microaggressions because of unconscious views about women, for instance, or people with less education than he has.

Lucas reflects on some of the microaggressions he has witnessed or been part of, and he knows that many of these are verbal, involving spoken or written language. He thinks that analyzing these examples might help him take more responsibility for reducing microaggressions in his company.

Examples of Verbal Microaggressions

As he recollects, Lucas thinks of three examples of verbal microaggressions he has seen over the last two weeks at his company.

Microaggressions and Sexuality

Lucas' boss usually schedules meetings far in advance, and he is a stickler for punctuality. Last week, Lucas had two meetings back to back, and as a result, he was slightly late for the second one.

When he got there, he apologized, and his boss rolled his eyes, looking at Lucas. 'You're on queer standard time, right?' he said, and then he moved on with the meeting. Lucas could see that this comment was a power play, designed to make his boss feel in control of Lucas and the meeting experience. From Lucas' point of view, it represented homophobia and resorting to an unfair stereotype. This was a verbal microaggression.

Microaggressions and Race

The other day, Lucas was emailing with a few colleagues about a presentation they were trying to put together. The other colleagues on the email chain were all white.

Lucas had an idea about how to make the presentation more dynamic. When he tried to describe it, a colleague replied in writing to the whole group, 'That is such a good idea! You really don't think like a black person.'

Lucas understands that his colleague ostensibly meant this as a compliment to his intellect, but it was actually testament to the colleague's racist thought pattern.

Microaggressions and Gender

Lucas knows that he is not immune from perpetrating microaggressions himself. Earlier this week, he was getting coffee in the break room, and he saw a female colleague come in. She looked glum and frustrated.

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