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ATD Blog

Replace Microaggressions With Respect in Your Workplace

Thursday, October 8, 2020

With apologies to the late singer Aretha Franklin, the word “respect” has become somewhat of an outlier in today’s world. As we dig for “just a little bit” of the elusive R word, we are, more often than not, coming up dry.

In today’s polarized environment, whether it’s through a retort on social media, a one-on-one interaction over Zoom, or through the muffled intonations of a mask-to-mask meeting, words—rather than sticks and stones—are the current bludgeon by which people are inflicting pain.

Though one would expect a modicum of decorum in the workplace, this too has been fleeting. A recent article in Harvard Business Review noted that nearly half of employees don’t feel respected in the workplace—a condition that, if allowed to proliferate, can negatively affect career satisfaction and career growth.

It is not the overt kind of disrespect that is creating the most friction in today’s workplace but the subtleties peppered in everyday language that are affecting most workplaces. Microaggressions, which are recognizable as a type of condescension that can feel discriminatory to the recipient, have become a leading form of harmful discrimination.

Microaggressions: Hard to Spot and Harder to Eradicate

A recent McKinsey study found that 73 percent of professional women experience microaggressions in some form. Forbes also noted the prevalence of microaggressions in speech directed at anyone, regardless of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation.


So, what do microaggressions look like? Many times it’s the utterance of the word “love” or “dear” at the end of a normal workplace discussion. Often, it can take the form of observations—talking to a co-worker about how a black employee seems articulate or an older employee appears energetic.

Because these microaggressions can be difficult to spot, companies are turning to training resources to help employees educate themselves and unlearn this type of behavior. One unique microlearning approach employs a tool called 3D simulations. This technology allows employees to engage in virtual real-word scenarios and receive immediate, real-time feedback without the specter of doing so in front of managers or HR representatives.


Curtailing Microaggressions on the Fast Track

Through interactive 3D simulations, employers are able to leverage expert insights to develop and preload real-world scenarios, including voiceovers and scripts, into the module. Personalized avatars appear on screen within each scenario to elicit empathy and explore responses that are more emotional and genuine in nature.

Also, unlike lengthy training videos that can seem plodding and preachy, the microlearning approach used in these 3D simulations delivers each scenario and solution in 15 minutes or less, ensuring that lessons are embodied before interest wanes and details are forgotten.

Companies that have deployed a 3D simulation approach have fast-tracked the process of shoring up their company culture, creating an atmosphere that is not just more inclusive but is more ready to deal with the dynamic and everchanging dialogue in today’s workplace. Being attuned to microaggression behavior can even help de-escalate situations before embers become flames.

Eliminating microaggressions in the workplace through 3D simulations represents a small investment that can have a big impact on company culture, employee satisfaction, and an atmosphere of inclusivity.

About the Author

Luis Gonzáles brings more than 25 years experience in helping improve business outcomes for global organizations via training and coaching. Prior to joining Fierce, Luis developed and facilitated training workshops for Microsoft’s global effectiveness, intercultural communication, and other targeted training sessions to improve customer satisfaction, intercultural competency, and communications of customer support engineers working with premier Microsoft accounts in the U.S. With more than 15 years of experience with Marriott International and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Luis brings extensive hospitality leadership experience and a keen sense of customer service. At the Ritz-Carlton, he directed the implementation of Total Quality Management strategies, helping to win the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice as a result. A native English speaker, Luis also speaks Spanish fluently and is conversant in Portuguese. His passions include music of all kinds, world travel, yoga, and surfing.

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