Calling In vs Calling Out Microaggressions

Respectful Language

Words can be hurtful. They can be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, or discriminatory. Yet the use of derogatory and offensive language on the streets, on social media and streaming services, and in music lyrics can normalise, glamorise, and sanitise their meaning. For young people, this influence can be significant, and if left unchecked, that influence can be quite damaging.

The use of derogatory language or the act of swearing at someone or about someone is a form of verbal violence. It transgresses the usual rules of social interaction by affecting an individual's self-image and sense of dignity. Therefore, many schools enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding such language.

Parents and carers play an important role in building an understanding of language use and its effect by monitoring what their children are exposed to and discussing the use of words and their origin. This can help prevent inappropriate or disrespectful language from being used at school, online and in other situations.

Whilst some students may use offensive and derogatory language for attention-seeking purposes, others may use it simply because they are still learning how to moderate their language. As young people develop their language skills, they need to clearly understand the impact of their choice of words on others and how their words can impact other people's perspective of them - an important and essential skill to learn as they progress in their personal and professional development.


The everyday indignities, insults, and subtle acts of exclusion that members of marginalised groups endure in their routine interactions with people from all walks of life, including at school, are also known as microaggressions. Microaggressions come in many forms; verbal & non -verbal, overt & covert, direct & indirect.

Microaggressions can target any marginalised group identity, such as race, socioeconomic, gender, sexuality, nationality, citizenship, ability, etc. and can cause students to experience serious cognitive, behavioural, and emotional reactions, making it very difficult for them to learn.

These remarks and behaviours happen casually and often without any intended harm, but they do demonstrate that the initiator harbours an unconscious bias. Meanwhile, the person on the receiving end who belongs to the group discriminated against – be it because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or religion – is often left to suffer in silence.

As someone who wants to be a good ally to marginalised groups of young people who, as evidence reports, are overrepresented in their experiences of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide compared to the general population, how can we do better as a community?

  • How do i/you/we apologise after committing a microaggression?
  • How and when should i/you /we try to make amends?
  • And what's the best way to ensure that i/you/we do better in the future?

Be aware of implicit bias and stereotypes & where that can lead.

Calling In vs Calling Out

There are moments when "calling someone out" is appropriate to stop words or actions that are actively hurting someone. But, often, it's effective to instead "call someone in." When we call someone in, we acknowledge we all make mistakes. We help someone discover why their behaviour is harmful and how to change it. And we do it with compassion, kindness and patience.

These conversations can be difficult, but I have come across a 5-step communications approach -- the B.U.I.L.D model – to help navigate these challenging conversations.

1. Benevolence

The first step of calling someone in is to have their best interest in hand while holding them accountable. Approach the conversation with respect and kindness yet remain firm in communicating the impact of their actions.

This approach helps create psychological safety. People feel respected and not on guard, thus more open to feedback and change. By giving them the benefit of the doubt, they know you have their back. You create the climate for vulnerability, mutual trust and respect. This is the foundation of inclusive communication.

2. Understanding

Practice deep listening to understand the facts of the situation, as well as the feelings and values of the individual. This will help you gain insight into the intentions behind their actions. This step requires listening in a way we don't often do in everyday life. As you listen, also be aware of your own biases and assumptions, as they can affect your understanding of the other person's intensions, feelings, and values.

3. Interacting

Get off autopilot and engage with curiosity – not pre-judgement – as your guide.

Take on the mindset of an investigative journalist by asking non-leading "what" and "how" questions: "What was your intention when you said ...?"

"How might the other person view this situation?"

"Tell me more."

4. Learning

The goal of calling someone in is to help them evolve. Acknowledge that mistakes happen. Correcting them requires expanding our reference points and understanding different perspectives and experiences.

If someone calls you out, think before you react. First, thank the person for sharing this valuable feedback with you. Second, think about their input. What does it mean? What will you do with it? Third, respond positively. Fourth, act on what you learn.

5. Delivery

This is when you put it all together into action. Often, the action includes providing constructive feedback and saying what needs to be said to the right person, at the right time and right place, respectfully, accurately, and clearly.

We can all benefit from being reminded that inclusion is a continuous, all-in practice, and "calling-in" conversations are one step forward in the right direction. Inclusion and belonging are key predictors of academic success and social and emotional resilience.

Next Steps

To develop and strengthen a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion at Woodleigh, one where values and traditions learned through our community are shared, where social rules of behaviour and respect for self, others and the environment is the expectation, and not the exception, where everyone can flourish, let's call it in together.

Register for our upcoming Woodleigh P.E.P talk with Nevo Zisin on Wednesday 18th May @ 7pm (via zoom).

In Kindness,

Director of Counselling