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"On a regular basis we discover interesting articles by other authors. These articles present ideas that we feel may be of benefit to you. Here is one such article." – Dave Kahle

Overcoming Stereotypes: A Key Step In Successful Communication

by Bill Lampton Ph.D.

A few months after the infamous 9/ 11 disaster in New York City, I was directing a seminar in New York for the Orvis Company. I asked the group for examples of how stereotypes–our preconceived opinions about people, based more on assumptions than facts–had impacted their communication. One participant said:

"Shortly after the World Trade Center disaster, our hunting lodge got a request to host a two–day shoot for people whose names reflected mid–Eastern origins. We were quite suspicious, even fearful. Did they want to improve their marksmanship so they could destroy Americans? Were we in danger ourselves? Yet when the group arrived, we saw right away that they were well mannered, exceptionally cooperative. In fact, they became some of the most pleasant guests we ever hosted. Nothing about them frightened us. We discovered that our stereotypes were unfair and misleading."

Have you ever felt that you were a victim of stereotyping? As women have moved into managerial posts, they have referred to a "glass ceiling"–the barrier to greater advancement because of the stereotype which questions their ability to handle leadership responsibilities at the highest levels.

Regional stereotypes remain prominent. For example, people who live in the southern region of the United States face special challenges concerning stereotypes. During their travels, they experience preconceived notions, not always flattering or fair. When they meet people in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, and Boston, southerners must break through the mistaken images of the South created by Hee Haw, Dukes of Hazard, the Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, and other television programs. They shock those who expected them to show up barefooted, use terrible grammar, and be totally uninformed about manners, business and national affairs.

Throughout my childhood, I had to fight the stereotype that came with being an identical twin. Because my brother Ben and I looked alike, people–including family members–concluded that we shared identical opinions on every topic, and that we wanted to do the same things. Those notions were way off base. Even today, although we share some interests and ideas, our differences out weigh our similarities.

To subdue stereotypes, and clear the way for accurate and productive communication, I recommend these steps:

  • Identify the stereotypes that have marred your judgment, such as "All athletes are poor students" and "All wealthy people are selfish and greedy."
  • Look for exceptions to your stereotypes. You will find brilliant athletes and you'll meet rich people who support philanthropic causes.
  • Eliminate harmful words and phrases from your vocabulary, such as "Every" and "That's just like a …"
  • Challenge stereotypes people express about others. Example: Someone says, "All bosses are just out for themselves." You reply, "That may be true in some cases. But my supervisor makes sure that everybody on his team enjoys an equal opportunity to get promoted."
  • Challenge categories people assign you to automatically. Suggest politely, "You're mistaken in your opinion about me. Let me tell you why." With tact and goodwill, you and I can resist accepting the labels we don't fit. We'll win respect, and we will pave the way for unblemished communication.

When I shared these thoughts with a prominent South Carolina television broadcaster, now retired, he sent me this wonderful reply: "We are so often and so quick to lump, generalize and paint all with the same brush. Sometimes, in a fit of stupidity, I am guilty of the same–and thank God I stop and realize how devastating that stupidity is, especially when I joyously see an African–American, a Jew, a Muslim, or even a Baptist (being Methodist) friend of mine or someone I admire, and do not see race or creed, but feel absolute friendship, admiration or even love. People who are mired in hatred and prejudice are dangerous and to be pitied."

Writer's Resource Box:

Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Helps You Finish in First Place. He has shared his expertise in communication, motivation, sales and customer service with a diverse client list. He wrote a popular book: The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! Visit his Web site Call Dr. Bill Lampton at 770-534-3425 or 800-393-0114. E-mail him: drbill@ChampionshipCommunication.com

Dave Kahle offers a variety of resources that can help your business stay competitive in changing times. To learn you can reach Dave by phone at 800-331-1287 or send him an email request.

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