Microaggression and Management

Because managers typically hold positions of power over those of their fellow employees, they oftentimes adjust their behaviors, sometimes inadvertently, to make that point clear. That behavior can generate negative working environments and actually counteract productivity.

In a recent blog post, Shanley defines microaggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities” that help perform and maintain power dynamics, inequities and stereotypes.” Managers use them, intentionally or not, to “reinforce destructive power dynamics, justify inequality in the workplace, submerge conflict, construct false superiority/entitlement and maintain control over employees.”

Below are five categories of microaggressions she presents.

1. Body Language and Touching. Managers often use body language and touching to construct power over employees. Often, managers are able to initiate touching their employees but employees will almost never initiate touching a manager because it would violate the implied power structure.

2. Unequal Visibility and Accountability. Commonly, there is a huge inequality in the accountability that employees have to managers vs. the accountability managers have to employees. There is a similar gulf in the relative degree of visibility that transacts between the parties.

3. Derailing and Gaslighting. In a system of management where the manager must maintain disproportionate power, things like dissent, disagreement, and conflict present crisis. Many managers will address dissenting employees by derailing and gaslighting them in order to discredit criticism or critical examination.

4. Performances of Excessive Confidence. In one form of workplace microaggression, managers engage in performances of over-confidence, arrogance and false omniscience. In a system where they are supposed to be more knowledgeable, more competent and more capable of choosing the best course of action, managers experience strong motivation to embody the mythology.

5. Preferential Treatment as a Reward and Division System. A great deal of stress is inflicted on targeted employees when managers exhibit preferential treatment. Managers may use the provision or denial of affection and praise to divide a team, punish dissenters and reward people who fit team norms and support the manager’s power.

See the examples of each type she provides and read the complete article here.


Helene Wiswall
Helene Wiswall is an Organizational Development Consultant with ModernThink. Helene’s specialty is helping companies within varying industries identify opportunities for improvement and create processes to drive change.