Stereotyping is the human tendency to categorize and make assumptions about others based on identified characteristics such as gender, race, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality and socioeconomic status (visit my earlier post, The Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication #1: Stereotyping, for a more detailed description). Therefore, one of the most important steps we can take to improve our ability to communicate across cultural differences is to be aware of our stereotypes and actively work to reduce their impact. I have discussed steps we can take to reduce stereotyping in previous posts (e.g., How to Reduce Stereotyping); however, there are 3 relatively simple actions you can take to begin this process. First, enhance your self-awareness by consciously working to understand how you impact those around you. Second, increase your empathy by trying to understand the world from the perspective of those around you (i.e., take a figurative walk in their shoes to see what their world is like). Third, actively work to suspend your judgment. It’s not easy but try to listen before you evaluate and assess others.
Next Post: January 20, 2016 - The 7 Do’s of Multicultural Communication #7
In other words, never talk down to another human being or treat another person in a condescending manner. This is one of the quickest ways to damage communication, reduce trust and impair interpersonal relationships. It's also a very effective way to lose respect within your organization, especially if you are in a leadership position. You should consciously strive to treat everyone with dignity and respect no matter where they are on the organizational chart. This may sound simple but in reality, we tend to treat people based on our perceptions of who they are and how they should be treated. This is one of the unfortunate byproducts of stereotyping. For instance, you don’t speak to a 5-year old child the same way you speak to a 35-year old adult. Of course, this makes perfectly good sense. It would seem odd if you spoke to a young child and an adult in the same manner! However, this unconscious interpersonal differentiation can have negative repercussions as well. For instance, many of us speak differently to an office secretary than we do to a senior vice president. Similarly, during my 6 years as a college professor, I quickly learned to use "Dr. Holmes" whenever I phoned a university department because the quality of service was significantly higher than when I used "Tyrone". I wasn't treated poorly when I was Tyrone but I received more professional deference and respect when I was Dr. Holmes. Bottom-line, be aware of how you speak to others and never treat anyone in a patronizing or condescending manner.
Next Post: September 22, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #2
The last of the 4 steps you can take to reduce stereotyping is by far the most important: identify one step you will take and commit to this step. There are at least three proactive steps you can pursue to reduce the impact of stereotyping in your life. The first, and most powerful, is to increase your contact with the stereotyped group. It has been well established in the research literature that face-to-face contact between members of different groups significantly reduces prejudice. The more positive interaction you have with members of the stereotyped group, the more likely you will eliminate this stereotype. The second step is to actively engage in (or interact with people who actively engage in) anti-biased behavior or statements. In other words, proactively talk about why specific stereotypes are wrong or inaccurate. Of course, you don’t need to tell anyone about your particular stereotypes, but the more you verbally debunk your generalizations, the quicker you will rid yourself of that stereotype. Along the same lines, actively challenging biased or stereotypical statements from others will have a positive effect on reducing your stereotypes. Finally, during communication, consciously decategorize, by saying to yourself, “I’m going to get to know this person on an individual basis...I’m not going to make any generalizations or assumptions”. The reason this works so well is that you have recognized, in your own mind, your potential for stereotyping and have taken proactive steps to stop it. This provides you with a chance to really get to know the individual on a personal level, which will further debunk any stereotypes you may have of members of this particular group.
Next Post: Sept 8, 2015 - The Do's and Don'ts of Multicultural Communication: Part 1 - The Don'ts
In my last post, I introduced four steps we can take to reduce stereotypes, which are the generalizations we have about members of a particular group. The first step you can take is to identify your stereotypes. You must be honest with yourself. EVERYONE STEREOTYPES. It is a natural outgrowth of human communication and the way we process information. One way to do this is to make a short, written list of your stereotypes. Remember, you are more likely to stereotype a group if you have limited interaction with members of that group. Another step you can take is to ask someone you trust for feedback. This person may have observed biased actions or statements on your part that may come as a surprise to you. Perhaps the most powerful step you can take is to complete one of the unconscious bias tests available to the public such as the Implicit Association Test created by researchers at the University of Washington, Harvard University and the University of Virginia. The test anonymously measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. You can visit the Project Implicit website for more information.
Next Post: June 2, 2014 – How to Reduce Stereotyping: Tip #2
Dr. Tyrone A. Holmes is an author, speaker, coach and consultant. He helps his clients develop the skills needed to communicate, resolve conflict, solve problems and improve performance in diverse organizational settings.