People necessarily form stereotypes to simplify a complex world, but they often are wrong and lead us astray.
Don’t assume a person or group from "the other side" is as awful their stereotype suggests. Give them a chance to surprise you!
How To Do This: To do this, we must first become aware of our stereotypes--which are often so ingrained in our way of thinking that we don't even notice them. They are just a part of the way we make sense of the world--as invisible as the air around us. But when you are in conflict with someone or a group or an idea--look carefully for these assumptions. Then give the other side the chance to prove you wrong. If they prove you right...then you'll know where you stand. But you might be surprised...they might be more reasonable than you expect! Then you can try to figure out a way to work with them...and at least make the conflict more constructive--if not on the way toward resolution.
One thing to keep in mind, however...some stereotyping...if tested...can be helpful at avoiding conflict problems. Consider, for example, the difference between "high-context cultures" and "low-context cultures" described in the Beyond Intractability essay on Cross-Cultural Communication. These are stereotypes--and as such--should be tested because they can be wrong in a particular situation. But they are often fairly accurate, and can give you guidance about how to effectively communicate or negotiate with people from a different culture.
Why It Helps: We form stereotypes to simplify a complex world, but they often are wrong and lead us astray. When we assume that the other side is more unreasonable than they really are, and we treat them as if that were so, it is like a self-fulfilling prophecy--they are likely to become as bad as we expect. As we discussed in the entry about respect, "what goes around comes around." If we assume our opponents are "deplorable," and we tell them as much--they are likely to actually act in deplorable ways. If we assume they are frightened and in need of reassurance or assistance--and treat them that way--they are more likely to respond positively to our overtures.
- The Beyond Intractability (BI) essay & Conflict Fundamentals Post on Stereotypes
- The BI essay on Prejudice.
- The BI essay on Enemy Images and how to reverse them.
- The BI essay on Cognitive Dissonance
- Several expert conflict practitioners talking about stereotypes--and ways to break them.
Also, for an infographic that very briefly summarizes the key ideas here, see Infographic: Give People a Chance to Surprise You
Have you done this? Tell us about what you did and how it worked out. Did it help? What did you learn from the experience? Tell us!