The Cultural Cancer of Stereotypes

After my recent On Leadership interview with Haydn Shaw, author of the recently revised and re-released book Sticking Points, I’ve become more thoughtful about how frequently I employ generalizations.

Kids are... Gen X is… Democrats are… Bolivians are…

Seems like a duh insight, but I’ll bet the more aware you are of how often you also do it, you’d be horrified.

We make generalizations for many reasons, and they’re usually reliable mental shortcuts for us.

But I think mostly it’s because we get lazy in our thinking, the words we use, and the respect we show for others. I’ve only met one Bolivian in my life, and I have zero context for how like or unlike he is compared to other Bolivian people. My experience with Bolivians, or rather a Bolivian, can’t possibly be representative of their entire nation (although Bolivia would be especially delighted to know he’s such a remarkable and talented person, I’ve lent my own brand to co-authoring a forthcoming book with him (stay tuned)).

How ludicrous to think all Germans are stern (haven’t you heard or even said this?). Or that Catholics love Bingo. (I’ve been one for 52 years and have yet to play a single round of Bingo in my life). That the DMV service is glacially slow (well…maybe there are some general truths after all).

Let’s not perpetuate this cultural cancer of stereotypes. They may help us stay lazy, but they don’t provide any help beyond that.

All Boomers aren’t technological laggards. All Gen Zs aren’t used to winning a medal for participation. All Gen Ys aren’t disloyal to their employers. All of that is absurd.

Take the time to know people individually. Listen more. Talk less. Move off your lazy mental shortcuts and pay the price to understand who people really are. Not what category they fit into so it’s easy for you to “classify them” in your mind. But really understand what motivates them. Scares them. Drives them.

Everyone’s got an individual story. If you care enough, you’ll learn it. And along the way, they might just ask to hear about yours.

Download our guide, Manage Your Biases to Better Manage Your Team, to learn some strategies for identifying your biases as a leader and what you can do to manage them.

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as Senior Advisor, Thought Leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Releases, Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights From Our Greatest Minds, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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