The Dark and Bright Sides of Cultural Stereotypes

Monday, February 9, 2015, by Eliane Karsaklian

Black And WhitePeople usually say that we should avoid stereotypes because they are not true. However, at the same time, they propagate and reinforce stereotypes through their behavior. What is it about this dual relationship with stereotypes?

If you are an intercultural trainer and you explain cultural differences, you may be accused of sticking to stereotypes instead of telling participants ‘something new’ about the culture of matter. Or, you might not be believed because what you are telling them is too different from what they think they know about that culture, that is, that culture’s stereotypes.

Why is this so? It’s because people don’t feel comfortable with dissonant information. When they hear or see something that is different or opposed to their beliefs, they reject it because it feels uncomfortable to face something new that challenges what they took for reality and truth. But when people pay for a training, the ‘value for money’ rises from the amount of new things they learn in that training.

In other words, comforting people in what they already know by telling them that they are right and showing them the path to follow in order to succeed in a training session is not worth paying for. Neither is it worth telling them the opposite of what they already know and are convinced about because it requires too much effort to change their minds and think about new ways of doing their job.

The challenge for the intercultural trainer is to help participants to find their way in balancing stereotypes and real examples which might or might not confirm such stereotypes. The perfect balance between too much/too little information about stereotypes is not easy to get because stereotypes are a summary of what a culture really is like. But people refuse to believe what they are being told because they were raised hearing that stereotypes are negative and should be avoided.

People working in international settings often get frustrated because they cannot make people from other cultures work the way they want them to work. They want what they cannot obtain from other cultures. And then it becomes the fault of stereotypes.

You can’t ask people to give you what they cannot give you. And the more you insist in changing them, the less effort they will make to follow you in that move.

To learn more, read The Intelligent International Negotiator, Business Expert Press.