The difference between giving feedback and self-advocacy

by Jun 20, 2024

Difference between giving feedback and self-advocacy

The difference between giving feedback and self-advocacy when faced with microaggressions in the workplace.



Dealing with persistent microaggressions can require careful navigation with two different approaches  feedback or self-advocacy. Each strategy has distinct characteristics and can produce different outcomes.

Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two:


Definition: Feedback involves directly addressing the behaviour or comments with the individual or group responsible for the microaggression.


  • Specific detail: Feedback is usually specific to a particular incident or pattern of behaviour.
  • Constructive Intent: The goal is to educate and inform the perpetrator about the impact of their actions, fostering awareness and change.
  • Tone: Feedback tends to be more neutral and focused on the behaviour rather than personal feelings.
  • Form: Can be delivered in a one-on-one conversation, written communication, or through formal channels like performance reviews or mediated discussions.

Example: “When this happens [specific comment/incident], I feel [specific feeling]. This type of comment  is direspectful because [reason].”


This approach can:

  • Encourage understanding and potentially behavioural change .
  • Maintains professionalism and focuses on growth.
  • Can improve relationships and work environments by addressing issues directly.


  • May be met with defensiveness or denial.
  • Requires emotional intelligence and communication skills.
  • Effectiveness depends on the willingness of the other party to listen and change.

Worth a read: 5 tips to manage bias when giving feedback – 3 Plus International


difference between giving feedback and self-advocacy


Definition: Self-advocacy involves asserting your rights, needs, and setting boundaries in response to microaggressions. It puts the emphasis on your own experience and well-being.


  • Personal Focus: Self-advocacy centers on your own feelings, boundaries, and the impact on you.
  • Assertive Intent: The aim is to stand up for yourself and to make sure the perpetrator respects your  boundaries.
  • Tone: Can be more assertive and personal, highlighting your own experience and insisting on respect. You are still avoiding using “you” and accusatory language and/or name calling and focusing on the behaviour.  For example you are NOT saying: “you are sexist/racist/a bully.”
  • Form: Often involves direct communication but can also include seeking support from colleagues or  allies, using organisational resources and reporting protocols.
  • Next steps: it’s important to agree next steps. Communicate clearly to the perpetrator that there should be no repetitition of the behaviour and if there is what the consequences are. For exmaple escalation to the next level either a manager, HR or the company Ethics Committee.

Example: “At lunch you cracked a sexist joke. I  find that type of joke  offensive and aask you to stop. If it happens again I will esalate it to  …(.the manager, HR,  or the company reporting system for misconduct)


  • The process empowers the individual to take control of their situation.
  • It sets clear personal boundaries and is more likely to reduce the likelihood of future microaggressions although not guaranteed.
  • Promotes self-respect and confidence.
  • The target is aware of the consequences of not changing their behaviour.

How to step-up, speak up and self-advocate – 3 Plus International


  • Standing up for yourself can be emotionally taxing and requires courage.
  • It may strain relationships or create conflict with the individual if they are very defensive. This is not something you should worry about unless the person is your boss. If this is the case you should seek the support of allies or other individuals in the hierarchy.
  • The next steps require  management and organisational support to be effective..


  • Purpose: Feedback aims at educating and changing the behaviour of the aggressor, while self-advocacy focuses on protecting and asserting the individual’s rights and well-being.
  • Focus: Feedback is behaviour-focused, whereas self-advocacy focuses on the impact of the behaviour on you – the target.
  • Outcome: Feedback seeks mutual understanding and behavioural change; self-advocacy seeks respect and boundary enforcement and then behavioural change.
  • Interaction: Feedback is often collaborative and seeks dialogue; self-advocacy can be unilateral and assertive.


Giving feedback to address a specific microaggression tends to be a more educational and constructive approach, focusing on the behaviour and promoting awareness and change. This approach tends to be softer and can work with less serious or personally demeaning incidents.

Self-advocacy, on the other hand, emphasises asserting personal boundaries and rights, focusing on your personal well-being to ensure respect. Both strategies are important and can be used interchangeably depending on the context and the individual’s comfort level and goals.


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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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