Social perception is relative, reflecting both positive and negative impressions of people based on a range of factors. Our perceptions of people help us to make decisions and snap judgments, but can also lead to biased or stereotyped conclusions.
Overall, use your self and social awareness skill to keep your audience in mind and imagine yourself in their place. This will help you to adjust your writing level and style to their needs, maximizing the likelihood that your message will be understood.
Although often used interchangeably, the terms used to describe common perception errors have different meanings and connotations.
Stereotypes are oversimplified generalizations about groups of people; stereotypes can be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation— almost any characteristic.
They may be positive (usually when referencing one’s own group, such as when women suggest they have better soft skills), but are often negative (usually toward other groups, such as when members of a dominant racial group suggest that a minority racial group is dangerous or less intelligent).
Prejudice refers to the beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes someone holds about a group. A prejudice is not based on one’s experiences; instead, it is a prejudgment, originating outside actual experience.
In the 1970 documentary Eye of the Storm, Jane Elliott illustrates the way in which prejudice develops. The documentary shows how defining one category of people as superior (in this case, children with blue eyes) results in prejudice against people who are not part of the favored category.
While prejudice refers to biased thinking, discrimination consists of actions taken against a group of people. Discrimination can be based on age, race, religion, health, and other indicators.
Discrimination can take many forms, from unfair housing practices to biased hiring systems. Equal Employment Opportunity legislation and enforcement by the EEOC is an attempt to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
However, we can’t erase discrimination from our culture just by passing laws to abolish it. As alluded to in the discussion of race, discrimination is a complex issue that relates to educational, economic, legal, and political systems in our society.
When thinking about diversity in the workplace, chances are, most individuals tend to see themselves as good-intentioned, egalitarian, and fair-minded people. They certainly do not go out of their way to denigrate others.
However, believing yourself to be "good" simply because you’re not actively engaging in hateful behavior is an overly simplistic and, ultimately, unaware viewpoint because everyone has unconscious bias of some kind. The steps individuals take (or don’t take!) to recognize and combat these unconscious biases have a direct impact on the workplace and everyday life.
It is important to be aware of how biases can affect individuals’ behavior. While there are laws and regulations designed to protect against explicit and extreme bias (e.g., not hiring someone because of their race, gender, ability, or age), there are also instances when seemingly "small" things individuals say or do in the workplace can leave a long-lasting impression in employees’ minds.
2a. Microaggressions and Microinvalidations
Such "small" things are known as microaggressions or microinvalidations: daily forms of taken-for-granted bias and discrimination that have a real effect on people’s lives. The work of anti-racism and anti-discrimination is the ongoing struggle to recognize and respond to this situation.
Microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership. Microinvalidations are characterized by communications or environmental cues that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of certain groups.
Our differences from each other are important and worth addressing because they allow us to deepen our conversations and share perspectives that may vary according to our national, racial, gender, or class identity. Reducing or eliminating microaggressions, and responding appropriately when one occurs, is everyone’s responsibility, and we can do it while still preserving academic freedom and insisting on everyone’s right to speak openly and frankly.
If you are the target of, or observe, a microaggression, you are certainly not responsible for solving the problem unless you wish to take on that responsibility.
But there are actions you might take to help management and other employees take responsibility for what occurred:
Source: This content has been adapted from Lumen Learning's "Combating Bias" tutorial.