Micro-affirmations: Everyday Behaviors that Result in Inclusion and Belonging


Often when discussing inclusion, we as managers and practitioners lose sight of what exactly we can do to achieve “being inclusive.” At Mattingly, we aim to clarify the HOW of inclusion through considering inclusive behaviors.


Inclusive behaviors are defined as actions that make others feel valued, respected, seen, and heard. Inclusive behaviors enable members from different identity groups to fully contribute their unique perspectives and contributions to the workplace. As you can see below, here at Mattingly, we like to break down inclusive behaviors into three major categories, as shown in the figure below:

Everyday inclusion is perhaps the easiest first step we can take in our daily lives at work and outside of work with small actions to make others feel valued, respected, seen, and heard. One example of everyday inclusion is the use of micro-affirmations.


What are micro-affirmations?

Rowe (2008) defined microaffirmations as “apparently small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events that are public and private, often unconscious but very effective, which occur wherever people wish to help others to succeed.” These actions foster inclusion, listening, comfort, and support for people who may feel isolated or invisible in an environment and are intended to subtly acknowledge another’s identity and personhood.

Examples:

  • “I understand that you are disappointed about this but how can this be an opportunity for growth?”

  • “I’m glad you’re here.”

  • “I can tell that you are very passionate about this topic, would you like to take the lead on this project?”

Framed as a potential protective factor to microaggressions, micro-affirmations have been studied in educational settings and shown to have value, especially in advising spaces, for creating safer spaces for students, especially those from marginalized backgrounds. Micro-affirmations “replace messages about deficit and exclusion with messages of excellence, openness, and opportunity” (Brown University).


How can YOU use micro-affirmations as everyday inclusion?

Given the potential power of micro-affirmations, it is important to provide examples of how you can incorporate these actions into your everyday behavior. Below are three suggestions for how best to micro-affirm:

  1. Practice active listening

  2. Show your coworker that you are listening attentively and focusing on what is being shared, through open body language, summarizing response statements, and eye contact.

  3. Build on strengths and successes rather than weaknesses and failures

  4. Use micro-affirmations to build upon others’ strengths as well as to correct or manage areas of weakness, especially when they experience (real or perceived) exclusion, rejection, failure, or disappointment. This can take the form of providing comfort and support in times of distress as well as providing clear and timely feedback to correct mistakes.

  5. Recognize and validate experiences

  6. Take the time to understand the situation and validate the constructive behaviors the individual performed in response, express care and concern about the effects of the situation, and provide guidance and/or support on moving forward.

What’s next?

Being inclusive is about what you do more than who you are. Incorporating micro-affirmations into your daily interactions can create more inclusive spaces for your colleagues, especially those from marginalized backgrounds.

Are you looking to learn more? Contact us today to learn more about increasing inclusive behaviors throughout your organization!

Other sources:

https://www.brown.edu/sheridan/microaggressions-and-micro-affirmations-0

https://journals.psu.edu/mentor/article/view/61286/60919

Powell et al., 2014

Rowe, 2008

Koch et al., 2022