Monday, January 18, 2010

Challenging Your Stereotypes

We can learn a great deal by watching for gaps in our stereotypes. So many people who appear to fit a mode don't really do so and their difference can be a valuable distinction. It may be the product of a conscious choice of another way, one that they've found via reason.

Bravo for them.

But there are occasions when we should take away the compliment. By conforming to the stereotype in superficial ways, are they not reinforcing a system that is in need of change? Sometimes the old line of "Quietly changing the system from the inside" is more accurately translated as "Afraid to speak up."

We've heard of Groupthink. It is also helpful to be on the alert for the related problem of Group Superficial Conformity. I've seen groups vote in favor of an action that most of the members secretly opposed and yet each person voted for it because of the perception that the others favored it. Jerry B. Harvey called this The Abilene Paradox. The stereotype fashioned the expected position and there was the strong, but probably false, belief that dissent would have invited punishment.

One solution: Beware of rapid agreement and get to know the people in the room. They are far more complicated than they appear.

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