The power of micro-affirmations and micro-advantages

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion by Rachel Murray

Recently, we dove into the topic of microaggressions at work in a guest blog on the CultureAmp website. While it’s critically important to understand what microaggressions are, how they impact marginalized people, and best ways we can respond, we thought we would take some time to explore the flipside of this– the micro-affirmation and the micro-advantage.

In 1973, Mary Rowe (at the time an Ombudsman at MIT, who has since become an Adjunct Professor of Negotiation and Conflict Management at the Sloan School of Management) coined the terms “micro-inequities” and “micro-aggressions,” which built on the term microaggression that was coined a few years earlier by Harvard Professor Chester Pierce. While these terms are quite nuanced, today we’re going to explore their counterparts, micro-affirmations and micro-advantages.

Micro-affirmations are subtle acknowledgements of a person’s value and accomplishments which create a sense of belonging. Examples include: publicly attributing credit to someone for saying or doing something, saying hello to someone in an elevator, making a kind introduction to someone else, listening to someone when they’re in distress, opening a door for someone, and/or just generally paying attention to and acknowledging the small things. Basically, it means being a nice human to everyone.

Micro-advantages are gestures, facial expressions, choices of words, and tones that are even more subtle but just as important in making the person feel valued and appreciated. Examples of micro-advantages are: making eye contact, nodding and smiling, and not crossing your arms. A great example is if you greet one employee cordially, but more formally, saying “Good morning, Suzi. I hope you had a nice weekend. Do you have the report ready for this morning’s meeting?” with barely a smile; quickly ready to walk away. Then, another employee walks in, and you says, “Hey Jim! How was your weekend? Did you get a chance to head to the game? Let’s grab coffee and talk about that report!” all while smiling broadly and appearing generally more at ease. Clearly, Suzi won’t feel the same sense of belonging as Jim, and it’s likely that she’s at a disadvantage to him. Some additional examples can be found in this article on micro-advantages and how they impact the workplace.

What we love about micro-affirmations and micro-advantages is that they can lead to a more productive and positive work environment in a variety of ways. Some of the benefits of performing micro-affirmations and micro-advantages include:

  • Blocking unwanted, negative behavior, in that you can’t perform both a micro-aggression and a micro-affirmation simultaneously
  • Lessening the amount of unconscious bias within yourself by affirming others’ accomplishments
  • Acting as a role model, because when co-workers and employees witness small appreciative acts, this allows them to see the effects and may want to replicate them
  • Creating a more productive work environment, as research shows that appreciation is a core concern for all of us

One final point that’s worth noting– these aren’t quick fixes. Rowe acknowledges that these changes will have a greater impact over time the more you perform them. We encourage you to try out using micro-affirmations and micro-advantages at work and let us know if you see any changes in your day-to-day.