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Stereotyping vs. Generalizing: Same Thing or Different?

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

Have you heard at least one of the following statements?

“Germans drink a lot of beer.”

“Americans can only speak English.”

“Italians are passionate (maybe too much).”

“English people drink a lot of tea.”

“Russians are scary.”

“Canadians are super-polite.”

“Argentinians love steak.”

“Swedish people are attractive.”

“Australians like to drink.”

“All Chinese know kung-fu.”

If you haven’t, let me tell you: you need to get out more!

Regardless of the degree of truth –which we can debate– of each one of the statements above, they have one thing in common: they are all stereotypes. Fun fact, stereotypes vary by region. Don’t believe me? Look here (sense of humor required, refrain otherwise).

As much fun as they can seem, stereotypes are incredibly damaging to establishing a long-term, healthy inter-cultural relationship, especially in a global team. The definition of a stereotype is “an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group.” The key here is “every person.”

Here’s an idea: how about we generalize instead? Will that help?

In short, yes! Generalizing is to have a broad idea of something. For clarity, let’s put it this way:

Stereotyping: “All Germans drink a lot of beer.” When you meet one: “here’s your beer!”

Generalizing: “Many Germans drink a lot of beer.” When you meet one: “want to grab a beer?”

You see, when generalizing, we leave room for error; our idea of a person, from a given nationality, is elastic, not rigid. And that’s what we want, to be open, even if it is a little bit, just enough to give people from other cultures the benefit of the doubt.

One of the things we must include in our multi-cultural orientations is this: avoid stereotyping. We all grow up with stereotypical ideas, and maybe even some experiences reinforced them, however in our global teams, chances are all members will have more in common than not. Let’s give generalizing a try!


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