Micro-inequities Add Up

How often do you a halt a conversation, mid-flow to check your phone or reply to a text message? Ever thought about how actions like this impact the people around you? Tom Verghese explains micro-inequities. 

Let me ask you this question, how many of you have experienced one or more of the following scenarios:

  • You’re talking to someone and they’re looking at their watch while you’re sharing some information
  • You’re talking to someone and they’re texting on their phone
  • You’re talking to someone, the phone rings, they turn around and they have a long conversation with the other person on the phone while you’re just standing there?
  • How many of you have experienced being excluded from small talk?
  • How about someone passing you in the corridor of the office without speaking or saying “Hello” to you?
  • Have you ever had the experience of someone taking credit for your work?
  • How about someone constantly mispronouncing your name and not making any effort to get it right?
  • Or someone calling you a nickname without your permission?

All these are examples of what is known as micro-inequities. Micro-inequities is a term defined by Mary Rowe in the 1970s. They are defined as those subtle and disrespectful behaviours that exclude others. Sometimes they’re very difficult to recognise for both the person doing it and for the person receiving it. When you commit a micro-inequity you may only do one at a time and it may not have a big impact, but it is easy to imagine how over a period of time these individual behaviours can add up and have a significant impact. It’s like a drop of rain – if a drop of water hits you it probably won’t make a difference, but if drops of water hit you constantly it is certainly going to get you wet!

How do you become more aware of the impact of your behaviour?

The key issue here is how can each of us be more consciously aware about our behaviour and its impact on others? One way to address this question is to understand the idea of micro-affirmations. Micro-Affirmations are the opposite of micro-inequities and again are often the small and subtle behaviours that demonstrate inclusion.

One example of a micro-affirmation behaviour is inclusive verbal skills. When you’re leading a group discussion, make sure that you are involving everyone. Encourage contributions from everyone in the group, especially those who are quiet. There will always extroverts and introverts; extroverts are those who always have ideas to contribute to the meetings, and it’s easy if you are not being conscious to actually exclude the introverts. You may need to specifically ask the introverts for their ideas and input.

A second example is using non-verbal skills such as eye contact, smiling and nodding of the head. Acknowledge people when they speak up and say something, or make a contribution to the team. These micro-affirmations will lead to a greater sense of inclusion for all.

In today’s world of social media, it’s really tempting when you’re talking to someone to answer your phone or send a text. I’m not saying that you can’t ever do that, but I would challenge you to try to be conscious of what you are doing and its impact on others. It is not difficult to ask for permission to put a conversation on hold while you answer a phone call. Alternatively, have the phone on silent mode and focus and be present in that conversation.