Cultural Intelligence – The Cure to Stereotyping

“I prefer hiring candidates from ethnicity A because those from ethnicity B are generally lazy and unproductive.”

“Ladies do not make good bosses because they’re typically mean, controlling and moody all the time.”

“Oh no, I’ve got a Millennial on my project team. These Millennials always feel they are so entitled!”

Whether we like to admit it or not, all of us have stereotypes. A stereotype is a preconceived belief about a particular category of people and is often used with a negative connotation. Because each of us is different in so many ways (age, gender, culture, talents, abilities, race, profession and so forth), we easily fall into various groups of categorization. It is human nature to tend to side with the kind of people that closely resemble versions of ourselves.

We can easily develop stereotypes when we read or hear about certain negative experiences involving someone from a specific group. As a collectivistic society, it is easy for us to take on the views/opinions of those who are, in our own eyes, the “same group” as we are from. Stereotypes are further reinforced when we ourselves go through a similar negative experience involving someone from that same other group. And when we have several occurrences of the same kind of negative experiences, it is easy to start generalizing and assuming that the same is true for every individual in that category. When we bring such stereotypical attitudes to work, we can imagine the harmful effects it can have on workplace harmony and collaboration.

How can Malaysians successfully overcome stereotyping at work, especially if we’ve personally experienced it firsthand? The first step is to identify stereotypes that we personally may be harbouring. At times, we may be unaware of what they are. It requires a conscious effort to monitor our thoughts and how we feel when we hear comments made about a specific race, personality, choice of lifestyle, nationality and so on. Once we’ve identified our stereotypes, we can then use Cultural Intelligence to work towards dealing with them.

The Cultural Intelligence Center defines Cultural Intelligence (CQ) as the capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations. It involves four capabilities:

  1. Drive: To overcome a stereotype, we must first develop the desire, willingness and persistence to work well with those of whom we have a stereotype against. We can do this by listing down the benefits that can result from working with them instead of avoiding them at work – some of which include a happier work environment, healthier working relationships, and better collaboration and outcomes.
  2. Knowledge: What do we know about people from that specific group? How familiar are we with their culture and the way their culture might influence the way they think and behave? A handful of experiences that we’ve heard about or personally experienced are not sufficient to paint the full picture. We need to be willing to invest time and resources to learn and find common ground that we can build on.
  3. Strategy: Once we are equipped with the right knowledge, we can plan ahead before our next encounter with them. A stereotype dictates that certain people will behave in a certain manner. Can we be prepared to turn a potentially negative encounter into a positive one? And if they do not behave in a manner we are expecting them to, do we later reflect on their reaction and adjust our assumptions accordingly? We will be able to if we plan to do so.
  4. Action: The last step is to translate the above three capabilities into action. When we look out for opportunities to demonstrate our drive, knowledge and strategy in dealing with our stereotypes, we will be more motivated to apply them and experience its benefits. By being adaptable and reasonable, we can dispel incorrect stereotypes and instead discover friendships that we otherwise never would have had we continued to hang on to our former stereotypical beliefs.

While stereotypes may not always be wrong, they are always incomplete. As such, developing the awareness of how to address various differences in thinking, behaving and communicating will equip us to be better communicators and leaders. In each of our cross-cultural training programs, you will learn effective and proven methods of overcoming stereotypes that can be immediately applied to any situation.

By: Boleh Blogger