Purple Flag Moment: Addressing Harm and Creating Safer Spaces at Work

In their TED Talk, Just Work cofounders Kim Scott and Trier Bryant identify ways to reduce bias at work. They use a purple flag to notice and name when words or behaviours might be offensive. The purple flag moment model that we use at Sea Change is adapted from their work.


The first part of the model is responding to a microaggression by noticing and naming when words or behaviours might be or are offensive. One approach is to inquire. For example, asking the question. “I’m curious, what makes you say or believe that?”, or “Can you elaborate on your point?”. Another approach is to re-frame. “I think that’s a stereotype. I’ve learned that describing people with those words can cause harm.”


What if you are called out for a microaggression? The second part of the model addresses this. How can you respond in a way that isn’t defensive? First, take a breath and pause. Acknowledge the person who shared with you and thank them for their feedback. Commit to do better or seek to understand by asking questions.

We shared this model initially as part of our All In! Allyship and Inclusion Leadership training pilot this spring. The participating leaders were keen to have a tangible model to share with their teams. They shared stories of not knowing what to do when uncomfortable, offensive, and harmful comments or behaviours happen at work.  Some training participants even used the purple flag model during the training breakout rooms when there was a need to unpack a comment or assumption.

During the time we were developing this model, I was called out by a peer for committing a microaggression. I was thankful I had an approach to follow as I tried to carefully respond in a way that wasn’t defensive or further centering my needs. But I have to admit that my initial reaction was defensiveness, until I reminded myself of my power and privilege, and all of the ways I need to be an ally and mentor to this peer. Using the Purple Flag model, I was able to shift to acknowledging the person, apologizing for the harm I caused, and deepening my understanding of the impact of my words by meeting my colleague for lunch to hear more about their experience.

How might you use the Purple Flag Moment tool in your workplace?