A conversation about micro-behaviours with Fiona McPhail
23rd September 2020
“When you think about it, it’s very likely that you’ve been on the receiving end of micro-aggressions, either positive or negative in your working or social life” begins Fiona McPhail, author of the new Marshall E-Learning Micro-behaviours training course.
“Picture yourself going into a posh restaurant” continues Fiona, “and you don’t have the right attire or accent, you may get a look or an aside that says ‘you don’t belong here’.”
Or maybe as a person of colour you are regularly asked: “Where do you really come from?” when ‘the UK’ or ‘London’ isn’t considered a fulsome response. These are both examples of micro-aggressions, often a manifestation of our unconscious bias.”
Fiona has worked in equality, diversity, and inclusion for about 30 years with a background in HR in the university and private sector. She has also been a consultant for many years across the public and private sector supporting people and organisations working towards advancing equality, diversity, and inclusion.
The short yet highly engaging micro-behaviours course that Fiona jointly developed with Marshall E-Learning requires the learner to reflect on questions like: Do you notice yourself making micro-affirmations to other versions of you? What triggers certain micro-aggressions? Is it with others from a certain group?
What is the impact of micro-behaviours?
“If you get positive micro-affirmations from your colleagues or in a social setting that’s not so bad. But if you’re on the receiving end of micro-aggressions in the workplace throughout the day it can be very undermining.
In terms of Unconscious Bias, people can make decisions in seconds without even realising it, and not just in the workplace, they could be making them in all manner of social situations. Micro-behaviours are prevalent throughout society.”
How is micro-behaviour different from bullying and harassment?
“Nowadays people have become attuned to recognising harassment and bullying when they see it, the most overt examples, but less tuned into the small comments. Often individuals are not aware they are being micro-aggressive and may not understand the implications of their actions.
Micro-behaviours can work both ways. Micro-affirmations can provide people with an extra boost or opportunity that others don’t get. So if you’re not in the ‘in-group’ this can have a negative impact on those excluded from the micro-affirmations and potentially work opportunities too.”
What’s the relationship between micro-behaviours and unconscious bias?
“There’s a strong interplay between unconscious bias and micro-behaviours. In both cases people are not aware of that they’re doing it. We all have an unconscious bias and we all engage in micro-behaviours.
The micro-behaviours training course is not about sending people on a guilt trip, it’s much more about raising awareness of your own behaviour and considering steps you could take to curb or limit that behaviour.
For example, there could be a conversation taking place that you’re not engaged with. This could be when you’re at a training course, at an event, in a meeting, or even at a more informal social event. But you then you start checking your phone…
The message you’re sending is “I’m bored and you’re not worthy of my attention”. Or if you’re looking at your watch it could be saying: “Speed up, I’ve got something better to do!”
Perhaps you just said to someone that you’re ‘disappointed’, which could send out different signals depending on how you expressed this sentiment, the style of your comments, even your tone of voice.”
How does understanding micro-behaviours benefit different organisations?
“It’s important to recognise that micro-behaviours are part of the Unconscious Bias continuum. If you raise awareness across your organisation demonstrating how easy it can take part in micro-aggressions or micro-affirmations, this helps individual members of staff to notice and reflect on the implications of that behaviour.
This in turn will help the organisation to move towards a ‘fair-for-all’ approach where everyone is more mindful of their interactions with others.
If you are a person who has been subject to micro-aggressions 20 times a day, the implications could be significant. They could be ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. As an organisation, you may find people do not want to work for you if you do not address these subtle yet insidious types of behaviour in your workforce.
This is not a ‘blame game’. None of us is perfect. But most organisations will find it beneficial to spread examples of micro-behaviours, explain why you should be aware of this behaviour and give staff the space to reflect on their own behaviour.”