7 Ways to Respond When a Customer Uses Microaggressions

customer service de-escalation microaggressions
A montage blend of African American faces close up, both men and women with different shades and colors in skin tone. Melanin beauty.

So, you want to know what to say if a customer targets you with microaggressions.


In this article, I'll explain microaggressions and give examples of different types. I'll also show you exactly how to set a boundary for how you'll be treated and give you exactly what to say.


Let's start with what microaggressions are.


I was the keynote speaker for an event in Iowa. I was the only black person in the ballroom, standing to the side of the room, looking for the A/V crew for a sound check. A tech team member approached me, assuming I was part of the hotel catering crew, talking down to me, telling me, "We won't need any food service, only water.When I told him, "I am the keynote speaker," he looked deadpan, didn't apologize, and merely started on the sound check. I can't tell you how often this same thing has happened to me at large events.  This is an example of a microaggression.





A microaggression is a subtle form of discrimination directed at marginalized groups. It can be verbal or behavioral and convey derogatory or negative messages. 


Here are some examples of microaggressions:


Racial Microaggressions:

  • Making assumptions about someone's nationality or ethnicity based on their appearance.
  • Telling a person of color, "You speak English so well!" assuming they are not a native English speaker.
  • Asking a person of color, "Where are you really from?" implying that they are not a true citizen of their country.
  • Saying, "You have a rhythm for a white girl."
  • Asking, "Can you transfer me to someone who speaks English? I can't understand a word you're saying."
  • Saying, "I think people should be able to wear their hair the way they wantbut, are Afros, braids, and locs really aligned with our brand?"


Gender Microaggressions:

  • Addressing a group as "guyswhen it includes people of various genders.
  • Assuming a woman is in a subordinate role or making comments about her appearance professionally.
  • Telling a man, "You throw like a girl,implying that being compared to a girl is negative.


Sexual Orientation Microaggressions:

  • Making jokes or comments that mock or belittle someone's sexual orientation.
  • Assuming everyone is heterosexual and using language that excludes or erases other sexual orientations.
  • Asking intrusive questions about someone's romantic life based on assumptions about their sexual orientation.

Religious Microaggressions:

  • Making assumptions about someone's beliefs based on their appearance or cultural background.
  • Using religious stereotypes as a basis for judgment or humor.
  • Pressuring someone to conform to specific religious practices or beliefs.


Ability Microaggressions:

  • Using words like "lameor "crazyin a derogatory manner can be hurtful to individuals with disabilities.
  • Assuming that someone with a disability needs help without asking first.
  • Making assumptions about someone's capabilities based on their visible or invisible disabilities.
  • These examples demonstrate how microaggressions can manifest in various aspects of identity and can contribute to a hostile or unwelcoming environment for marginalized individuals.


How to Handle Microaggressions From Customers



The best way to address racist or sexist microaggressions is to address them assertively, set a boundary for how you will be treated, and remain professional. 


Here are seven phrases to respond to such microaggressions confidently and assertively. 


You can use these phrases if you're the target of the microaggression, overhear the remarks, or are a manager stepping in to de-escalate.


  1. "That comment is offensive and inappropriate. If you speak to me respectively, we can continue. If not, I will disconnect this call/chat."
  2. "It's important to me that we communicate in a way that is respectful to everyone. Please refrain from making such remarks."
  3. "That's a stereotype, and it's not conducive to a positive interaction. Let's focus on our conversation."
  4. "I prefer keeping our dialogue inclusive and free from biased remarks. Can we move forward without such comments?"
  5. "That kind of language is not acceptable. Let's ensure our communication is respectful to all."
  6. "I'm uncomfortable with the tone of that comment. I want to help you, but need you to be respectful and considerate."
  7. When you hear microaggressions, whether you're a manager or employee, you can jump in to protect the person: "It's important to be mindful of the language we use to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Let's keep our conversation respectful and inclusive."


When you use phrases like these, you'll assert boundaries and address racist or sexist microaggressions firmly yet professionally.


Continue the Conversation With Me?


Here are some resources to help you handle challenging customers.


 Grab the 20 Phrases Here!


De-Escalating Conversations for Customer Service


Why you've been unsuccessful with angry customers from De-Escalating Conversations for Customer Service by Myra Golden

Nearly every customer service professional has encountered a livid customer. These individuals may yell, curse, or forcefully disagree with a policy that you must enforce, but can't control. Such situations are unquestionably tough, but—with the right approach—you can consistently de-escalate the tension. In this course, instructor Myra Golden shares strategies for defusing intense situations, providing practical approaches that can help you calm angry customers. Myra goes over what often causes situations to escalate, and shares practical steps you can take to prevent an escalation. She also provides tips that can help you reframe conversations, manage expectations, handle customers who ask for your supervisor, and more.

Learning objectives

  • Recognize examples of pushing when dealing with a customer.
  • Summarize the goal of reframing conversations.
  • Identify the benefits of using partnering language.
  • Determine the best response to a customer who asks to speak to a manager.
  • Identify statements that can be used to acknowledge a customer’s issue.



Customer Service: How to Deliver Support Across Languages

Three steps to gracefully handle complex interactions from Customer Service: How to Deliver Support Across Languages by Myra Golden

Build your confidence in delivering support to global customers. In this course, customer service expert Myra Golden outlines how to be successful in supporting global customers confidently and efficiently–especially if your first language is not English. Learn how to recognize the role confidence plays in supporting cross-cultural customers, and practice elevating your confidence by exploring any personal obstacles you may experience. Myra also shares proven techniques for creating rapport and connection with all of your customers. Finally, discover how to foster connection and avoid upsetting customers by empathetically addressing and acknowledging their concerns.


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