HOW TO DEAL WITH STEREOTYPES AT THE WORKPLACE
Stereotypes are so common in our society. Sometimes people use it intentionally in their communication to put down other people out of insecurity and other times people use stereotypes in their conversations and don’t even realize it. Comments based on gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, etc are strictly forbidden in the workplace.
Whatever came to your mind are stereotypes. It’s inevitable, even when you are the most open-minded person out there. What makes stereotypes dangerous is when you
- Decide to form an opinion about that person as a result
- Decide to communicate to that person directly or indirectly based on that opinion and stereotype
What is the harm of these stereotypes? Here is the harm.
- It can be very condescending – Whoever says these stereotypes in their conversation is trying to feel superior about themselves, intentionally or unintentionally.
- It can make people feel powerless to change their perception – Just like gender or race or sexual orientation, whatever the generalization we received in a stereotype, we cannot change it. I cannot change that I was a consultant for many years or the fact my Meyer Briggs is XXXX just as equally that I cannot change that I am a woman and Asian.
Here is how to deal with stereotypes at work. When you are on the receiving end of these comments, it is up to you to decide how to interpret and respond. Here are 4 tips.
- Let it go – Most people are unaware when they use subtle generalizations in their conversation. When it’s used toward you for the first time, just let it go. It’s not worth the energy to address it. Sometimes focusing on something minor actually makes it more legitimate. So just ignore it and move on.
- Raise awareness – If it’s happening more than once or twice, then it’s important to address it, especially if you feel like it’s condescending or trapped by the comments. It’s useless to get defensive or angry. Instead, stay calm and ask them a question to raise their awareness. For example, you can say “I know I was a consultant for a long time. I cannot change that past. Are you saying that you don’t think I can ever run a business?” This kind of question will put the other person on notice to raise their awareness of what they just said to you. Most people will back off what they say as a response and perhaps think twice before they use this kind of comment with you again.
- Change your perspective and know your self-worth: At the end of the day, you can never change other people. Even after pushing back, they may still keep doing it. A person’s comment may come across condescending but you don’t have to accept their comments as the truth. Sometimes people use these generalization thinking it helps them explain their rationale. Other times people are using it to feel superior. Either way, it’s their problem that they are naive or insecure. Don’t take people’s words literally. It is up to you to decide whether what someone says is valid. I know this is not easy but just realize that you can always choose whether you take anyone’s comments seriously. I have been a consultant for many years and was told: that “consultants cannot execute.” Well, I am hired in a role now where execution is my main job and I know I am good at it.
- Be aware of your own communications – You have to work with other people every day, people with different backgrounds, career paths, life stories, and communication styles. Be the most aware when you are in a situation where you feel insecure either because you are new to it or because someone’s communication put you on the defense. Either way, this is the most likely time you will want to “defend” yourselves and perhaps use generalization as a method to “retaliate” and prove your own points. Resist the temptation. It is up to all of us to become better people and better colleagues.
If you remember nothing else, remember this – Stereotyping is an expression of insecurity. Part of the reason I write this post is to raise my own awareness. We generalize often to make sense of things in life and work. It is human nature as we are surrounded by all different kinds of people. Enjoy that diversity even when you disagree as it’s what makes work and life interesting. Let’s work together to get rid of the stereotypes we have in our own minds and those around us in the work place.