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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

Strategies to Deal with Microaggressions

As a black or brown professional in the workplace, have you ever heard any of the following?

"Why are you so angry?" when you're talking about a subject that's highly charged?

"Just calm down," when you weren't upset, you were just speaking directly?

"You're just so passionate," but said in a tone that meant it wasn't a compliment?

That last one happened to me. A leader at a company I was working at told me I was "too passionate" to get a vice-president role. Can you imagine him saying that to a white man? Or even a white woman? I can't. He said it to me because he was applying a stereotype.

Tone-policing is frustrating, and it happens in places where how you say something has more importance than what you're actually saying. It essentially happens exclusively to people of color, and especially to women of color.

The thing is that some situations absolutely demand a level of emotion. If the subject of something highly charged and highly personal comes up in the workplace, it would be nearly impossible for someone to keep their cool about it. Being emotional at work isn't inherently wrong, but tone-policing absolutely is.

So how do we combat it?

Call it out if your emotion was justified given the context. Or, if the situation doesn't call for emotion, rely on your gravitas to keep things calm and collected. Your ability to use emotional intelligence to regulate your feelings will give you so much executive presence that nobody in the room can tone police you or call you out for getting "worked up."

Relationship management skills are crucial to getting your point across in a world that is constantly judging you based on a stereotype. It's not fair. It shouldn't be like that, but if you want people to hear and understand your opinions, visions, and ideas, you need to rely on emotional intelligence to keep your eyes pointing north.

Now, I am not saying that you should be an emotionless doormat that other people can walk all over. I am not saying you should be silent. My advice is that you use your conviction and gravitas to speak concisely and to the point. If you're not in a situation where you need to bring some heat (for example: it's not a question of morality, or integrity, or belief), then let your executive presence speak to your power, not your anger.

That executive who told me I was too passionate for a vice-president role came to talk to me when I announced I was resigning to accept a vice-president role at a new company. He looked me in the eyes and asked me if I was sure I wanted to leave, because they "loved my passion!" and wanted me to stay. He told me he appreciated the very thing about me he insisted would hold me back.

I know that what sets me apart from some people I work with is my high emotional intelligence. It helped me to keep my cool in the face of the microaggressions from that executive, and it can help you. If you're really struggling to implement some of these tactics, or you’re in an environment that's extremely challenging, let's connect.

Click here to put a one-on-one with me on my calendar, and I can give you specific strategies to help you stop tone policing in its tracks.

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