I read an interesting article awhile back about micro-messages, a term coined in 1973. MM are two thousand to four thousand subtle, non-verbal signals that we send every day, which are automatic and almost invisible. Or hardly detectable, anyway. Nods, sighs, shrugs, grins, grimaces, eye rolls, doodling, eyes drifting, finger tapping or snapping, head whipping...all these are MM, which are either positive or negative.
Micro messages can be praised, supported, judged, goaded, adored, dismissed or ignored.
A micro-perp is what you'd call someone who exploits their power, like bosses who look at their email while you are talking to them. Or who gaze at their computer instead of being engaged in the conversation. Or doctors who ignore you and speak directly to your spouse. Or clerks who are polite but never look you in the eye. A final example of a micro-perp would be a friend who begins an apology by saying, "If that hurt your feelings..."
A micro-victim is simply the person on the receiving end. The student who, after never being called upon, stops raising his hand in class. A junior executive whose ideas are dismissed with a wave of a hand and a "we've tried that before," or "anything else?" A woman who answers the door to a salesman asking if the lady of the house is at home. Words don't convey the essence of what we mean like micro-messages do. They make our feelings and messages crystal clear.
Roots of the micro-message are assumptions we make about our place in the world, our position in the social hierarchy, certain beliefs about individuals and groups -- pre-conceived notions about race, gender, ethnicity -- all filters - someone with hard-wired beliefs will support his way of thinking. Thus, my filters can distort your performance.
Most students learn by 2nd or 3rd grade if they are deemed dull or bright. Those perceived as dull begin to meet those 'expectations' of themselves. If someone you are talking to becomes inattentive, you'll grow angry, or frustrated, nervous, you might ramble or feel invisible, or you might be polite but cool towards them. You may sense what's going on and still be duped and end up faltering in conversation. It takes skill to keep someone engaged, just as it is a skill to be an active listener.
Some people intuitively confer micro-affirmations by engaging people, ignoring race or ethnicity, and bringing out the best in people, eliciting trust and loyalty.
Insensitivities result from an imbalance of power between two people. Everyone has been on both sides of this equation. Micro-inequities apply to everyone. Playing favorites, forgetting someone's name repeatedly, not paying attention, not remaining focused on someone's presentation...are examples of this.
A leader can change the entire tone of a room just through micro-messages such as facial expression, neutral comments, eye contact, active listening, etc. Silences can be loaded.
In short, micro-messages get to the DNA of culture change without saying a word. I'm thinking a lot of this is how we communicate with babies and animals. Any thoughts?