8

I came across the term 'microaggression' during the HR session of my current company's new recruit on-boarding, and I think I am facing this behaviour in my current team. I would like to know the best way to deal with this.

Some background about my situation:

  1. I was recruited to this firm from overseas and am on a restricted visa that makes switching jobs difficult as the company I am switching to will need to transfer the visa sponsorship to their account.
  2. I moved to the UK recently (less than a month ago), so there is a good chance that I may be over-reacting. I am from an Asian country and in my earlier companies, I have worked with other European and American counterparts.
  3. There is a probation period of a few months, so I should be careful not to cause waves.
  4. I am male and I look younger than I am. Most people I meet (in London in general and at the workplace) tend to ask how old I am within a few minutes of meeting me.
  5. The project I am on has 3 other people who are all in Director-level roles. Two guys are in sales oriented roles. 1 guy is a technical guy in a director role.

The following are some instances that make me feel unwelcome (subjective, of course):

  1. Lack of eye contact and exclusionary behaviour: I am used to working in flat teams without hierarchy. In this project, I have noticed that very often its 3 of us in a meeting room with the 2 other guys talking to each other with no one making eye contact or even angling their body towards me. If someone's laptop has to be swivelled around to show something on the screen, the angle is usually such that it is not visible for me at all.
  2. Suspiciously low pleasantries towards me: Each member in the team is new (haven't worked with each other before) and I noticed that during the first few meetings, the volume of small-talk that came my way was suspiciously low. For instance, A asked B where B was from. A did not ask me, the only other guy in the room, the same question, even though A is meeting both B and myself for the first time.
  3. Telling me how to do my job: A, B, and C tend to keep telling me how to do something even though it isn't their area of expertise. It's like going to a chef and telling him how to prepare a dish rather than specifying how you want the dish and letting it up to him to figure it out. This behaviour is grating for me since I am used to working with more freedom, and also because none of the other people know what they are talking about. I noticed that they don't do this shit with each other.
  4. Selective hearing: I say something and am ignored. A few minutes later, someone else says it and everyone thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread.
  5. Interruptions and derailments: I am interrupted and the conversation heads off on a tangent before I have completed more than a few sentences. Someone brings the conversation back on track and conveniently take off from where I was interrupted while forgetting that I was the original speaker.
  6. Not included in team recognition: Once something is accomplished and if A and I worked on that task together, I am usually not included in the praise. It's 'Hey, A this looks great!' not 'Hey guys this looks great!' even though A and I are sitting next to each other.

Plan of action:

  1. Call them out now: I think this is risky because in my experience shitty work places never get better. The risk is high and there are no return other than a moral victory. During probation they can kick me out with a week's pay. Also, I just joined and this is my first project.
  2. Call them out smartly: Say stuff like 'Excuse me, I wasn't finished' or 'I am sorry, your suggestion sounds very similar to what I said before. Is there some nuance that I am not getting?'. This could work, although it requires skill which I do not possess in abundance.
  3. Work on the next switch while laying low: This makes sense to me, even though implementing it would require mental discipline. It lets me leave on a neutral note (other than HR being miffed).

What do you guys think?

Additional Information (based on questions in comments)

  1. How do I fit into the team: I am a tech guy recruited at a senior level (below manager). Perhaps I am seen as having very little sales-oriented knowledge. My role is to assist the sales team using my programming skills.
  2. What is my relationship to the tech director guy: Honestly, I do not know. This guy says he is not a programmer but is able to pull up code from the internet that promises an easy solution to sales. Then he takes the credit and hands over the task of actually developing the full working solution to me. This results in me having to work on technology that I do not have experience with, thus learning from scratch, while also having to deliver results. I have tried suggesting that we divide the work between ourselves to him, but he dismisses that.
  3. Is there racism: I don't think so because one of the sales directors is the same race as me. The other sales director and the tech director are the same race although not the same nationality.
  • 3
    You've mentioned the role of others, but not yourself. How do you fit into the team? – Gregory Currie Mar 25 at 23:53
  • @GregoryCurrie I have added a comment in the original question body about my role. I am keeping the details a little vague as I don't wish to be identified. – Chaos Mar 25 at 23:57
  • @Chaos how is your relationship with the more technical guy in the director role? – Malisbad Mar 25 at 23:58
  • You also use the term 'microaggression'. Are you suggesting there is race-based discrimination here? (Australia and New Zealand can be considered in Asia, so it's not clear). – Gregory Currie Mar 26 at 0:01
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    @Chaos HR is a no go here unless you've got clear, documented evidence here. They work for the company, and will make optimal moves to protect the company. They're also directors, and you aren't, so keep that in mind with how inclusive they are of you. – Malisbad Mar 26 at 1:41
25

I came across the term 'microaggression' during the HR session of my current company's new recruit on-boarding, and I think I am facing this behaviour in my current team. I would like to know the best way to deal with this.

  • HR taught you about these microaggressions.
  • In your comments, you mentioned that HR said you should come to them if it happens to you.
  • It has happened to you.

I think it's clear that you should have a talk with HR.

Tell them what you are experiencing. Ask them what you should do. Then decide how you will act.

They may confirm that what you are experiencing are indeed microaggressions. They may point out that these are not microaggressions and explain why. Either way, they will likely give you ideas on how to proceed.

You may take their suggestions and find that it offers a good path. Or you may reject their suggestions and conclude that you must leave as soon as you can.

If you don't talk with HR and you do something else, you risk having your actions come back to bite you, and having HR say "Why didn't you come to us when we specifically told you to do that?" In my mind, that's not a good thing for someone on probation to do.

I know some might say "HR is not your friend" and suggest that you keep them out of it. I might agree if HR hadn't already specifically told you what to do in this situation. But here, the direction is clear to me.

  • 12
    Good answer. Be careful, when talking to HR, to ask for advice and help, not to complain. Everybody likes to help. But don't forget, HR doesn't work for you. – O. Jones Mar 26 at 16:43
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It sounds like you're a bit of an odd duck here. You're a technical guy who is at least a level below the directors. Being from a flat hierarchy you'll probably find there will be an adjustment period where access to levels above is more difficult, and exclusionary (if this company is more stratified). Don't expect many lunch invites from the directors if that is the case. Senior cog is still a cog.

There are a lot of ways to play smart on it. Take the laptop for example, why not say "Hey Bob, can you twist that towards me a little bit, I'm having a hard time seeing it." Or you could just get up out of your seat and get involved. As for small talk, are these directors again? "Only kings entreat with kings". Also, as you have mentioned microagressions, one of the most oft cited ones from people who come from Asia is being asked "where are you from?"

If A, B, and C are directors, and you're below them, they can generally tell you how to do your job. Maybe they shouldn't, but they probably can. You're paid to work for them, as per their instructions. I strongly suggest not being insubordinate. You can always smile and nod as they give you advice, then do what you've gotta do anyways. Just don't go against orders. Documentation is your best friend.

Selective hearing is easy to counter. Agree with whomever took over from you with something like "I'm really happy you agree with what I was saying before, your support means a lot".

Don't get interrupted. Respect is earned, and not being a doormat is part of that, but be careful around that. Lively discussion is often filled with interruptions.

You've only been there for a month. If you've had a massive impact, that's great, get recognized. If you haven't, be careful about becoming someone who constantly needs praise. A month is really early on.

  • Interesting take on asking 'where are you from'. Perhaps the person who avoided asking me that did so because he thought it would be irritating for me. – Chaos Mar 26 at 0:23
  • 'Don't get interrupted. Respect is earned, and not being a doormat is part of that' : Can you expand on this? – Chaos Mar 26 at 0:45
  • 1
    It's basically a meme among asian-americans at this point. I live in Japan currently, and it's basically the first question I'm asked so...it varies from person to person. IdPol stuff. Obviously if you just let yourself get run over, you will always be run over. You don't have to be aggro about it e.g. "Bob, stop interrupting", but you can play it off as a laugh "Alright, alright, hold on now, not done with that thought yet. You'll get your turn." You can own your time without making a hard (and sometimes embarrassing) stop. Go hard if they don't. "No, seriously, let me finish". – Malisbad Mar 26 at 1:39
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Definitely call them out smartly and be assertive. These people will walk on you if you are passive and may give you space to work if you stand up for yourself. In general London business culture is very favourable to people acting confidently.

In some “sales cultures” there isn't really a sense of team and uncollaborative behaviour is tolerated and often rewarded. In my experience, in such corporate cultures, if there were two engineers doing identical work, and both were being treated this way, and one responded assertively, then that person will be credited for the work of both engineers. I know that makes no sense but appearances win over substance in such corporate cultures.

I was unlucky to walk into a situation with such a corporate culture last year. As a freelancer programmer I was simply able to walk away at the six month contract renewal. Your situation is less flexible. If this project is indicative of the corporate culture then you shouldn't expect the situation to improve. Use it as an opportunity to practice carving out your own space and plan your next move at the earliest opportunity.

1

The fact that HR has a name for these behaviors and alerted you about it tells us that the problem is known, has been ongoing for nontrivial time and has been reported before.

The fact that you still experience it tells us that HR has been unable to fix the problem. Probably the company lost valuable employees who got sick of this crap and the ones left are continuing their toxic patterns.

My personal experience has been that HR doesn’t have the tools to deal with systemic toxicity. You can try discussing the issue with them, but before doing that, think about what they could do in real life to help you. If your prediction comes up empty handed, there’s your answer.

The solution, if you want to stay, is to stand up for yourself. Your ideas are a good start. Ultimately the question is, will you be happy here. I suggest to try the techniques you mentioned during the probation period. Once that is over, evaluate the outcome and act on it.

  • 4
    Microagression is a current buzzword, I wouldn't necessarily count on HR having specific instances in their own organization to back up their use in policy. – Myles Mar 26 at 16:49
1

These don't sound like micro aggressions to me at all, I think these are just regular aggressions. It sounds like these people just don't want you to be part of their team. In which case, what you should do depends on your position in the team:

1) Do these other people who are excluding you report to the same manager as you do? If so, you should report how you are feeling to that manager. Let him know you're feeling excluded, with examples, and see what he says. This is a managerial issue and should be handled by a manager.

2) Are these people above your level? If so, speak to your manager and say that you feel like you're in the wrong role; you joined as, basically, the technical consultant on the team, but you're not being consulted about anything, so what's your role? Are you a stakeholder in anything here? The one thing to make sure is that you are not your own team; you don't want to carry the work of a whole team yourself, that's not good.

3) Do these people report to a different manager than you at the same level? If so, have a word with your manager to have a word with their manager. Explain that when they exclude you from discussions, then you can't be productive.

As for what else you can do, your second option sounds good:

Call them out smartly: Say stuff like 'Excuse me, I wasn't finished' or 'I am sorry, your suggestion sounds very similar to what I said before. Is there some nuance that I am not getting?'. This could work, although it requires skill which I do not possess in abundance.

I'd start with that. As for other issues like turning the computer so you can't see it, make a point of mentioning that:

Hey, I can't see the computer, can you shift it a bit so I can see it too?

Or just go over to their side of the table so you can see it too. Maybe they just don't know you can't see it from your angle, and since you didn't say anything they think it's fine.

1

Welcome to reality. The problems you describe happen to everybody and are typical. Maybe if you volunteer for Greenpeace, there will be group hugs and kumbaya sing-a-longs every day, but in most work environments things are often awkward and offputting, especially for newcomers.

I once worked at a bank and my supervisor would walk past me in the hall as though I did not exist. He was not trying to be rude, that's just the way he was, and the way everybody was at the bank, just really cold and impersonal. Lunch was pretty surreal.

The thing to do is just stick to your duties and be courteous and professional. Take things one step at a time and build friendships slowly. The colder and more formal a person is, the deeper and more long-lasting will be their loyalty, once you win it.

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