Why Do We Stereotype?

We all do it. We meet someone or see someone in the media and many times put them into a neat, little box based after a 30 second engagement…a person is a Republican, so they must be a Trump fan. A person is a protester, so they must be a lawbreaker. A person lives in a very nice, big house, so they must be snobby, or they live in a trailer park, so they must be lazy. A person is a millennial, so they must live with their parents. A person is organic, so they must hate McDonalds. The list of stereotypes could go on.

I think our stereotyping is, unfortunately, human nature. It is easier to form opinions of different groups based on their intentions, so when we meet or see someone that fits one or more of those characteristics of the group, we have qualified them as that stereotype. When we stereotype, we are actually taking the individuality out of a person, because it takes less effort to stereotype than to understand someone on an individual level.

One of the things I like to do in a brainstorm/discovery workshop with a client is attempt to breakdown stereotypes. It is a fascinating time of dialogue, so when they say they want their product to reach and resonate with Millennials, we really dig into their data to bring out the individuality of the Millennial. Sometimes their assumptions are validated, but often times, their perception is broadened as they begin to see Millennials as individuals. When they see them as individuals, they can start to build a bridge with a clearer brand message. The thing is…in order to get to that point…it takes time to see beyond the stereotype and in a make-decisions-now, formulate-opinions-now world, it is difficult to do. To understand takes time.

As a professional and individual, who have you stereotyped recently and what assumptions have you made based on a brief interaction? Would you be willing to take time out of your busy schedule to get to know them better? To understand them better? In a world full of division fueled by assumptions and stereotyping, seeing someone as an individual and taking time to understand, we might learn a few things and gain a new friend or customer as well as help make the world a better place.

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