Stereotypes: Picking the Right Detergent

“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply.

We listen for what’s behind the words.”(Roy T. Bennett)

Remember George and Rana? (In case you missed it, you can re-read their story here.) Last week I introduced you to Rana and George, colleagues who experienced friction and frustration that stemmed from their dramatically different assumptions about each other, themselves, power, and the world in general. Let’s not leave them hanging another week.

Are you ready to be a relationship badass?? In the coming weeks, we are going to run them through two concepts and three basic tools that could help them both get more of what they want, and less of what they don't want on their jobs. Hopefully, the skills they learn will also better equip them in the future as their assumptions and those around them continue to crash together in conference rooms, neighborhood meetings, the grocery store, faith communities or wherever they are with groups of humans.

After we’ve explored some tools, we will look together at other common stereotypes. Opening our eyes to the ways other people see and bridging the gap in between their way and our way helps us create much more satisfying relationships across the board. As a bonus, these same tools also help us in other relationships like with our kids, our partners and our extended families.

That, right there… I just demonstrated Concept One

in the two paragraphs above. It will help Rana and George too. We need to know, “What’s in it for me?” Most of us try to be mindful of the needs of others. We don’t like to think of ourselves as selfish or ego-driven.

Simultaneously, however, with all of the demands on our time, we have to discern what is and is not worth our energy, especially when it's something as challenging as the conflicts between George and Rana.

We have to have a compelling reason to want to push past all of that uncomfortableness. For Rana, it’s the answer to what she’s been looking for: For George to consider the way he treats her and find ways to work together with mutual respect, or at least consideration. For George, it has the potential to tap into one of his core values: Being more effective with clients. He currently sees Rana as an obstacle to his goal. If they can get on the same page he can be more effective with less stress. He’s in!

Concept Two: The Right Conversation

What’s the Wrong Conversation? What often happens in human conflicts of all types is that the people arguing are not having the same conversation. It is very common for people in US cultures to approach conflicts with the goal of proving that they are right and the other person is wrong. Have you ever noticed that this doesn’t usually help?

If George’s goal is to prove that Rana needs to just shut up and trust him to lead their meetings, the conversation will go nowhere fast. She will see George as exactly the kind of person she thought he was, proven by what seems like an insincere attempt at dialogue.

If Rana’s goal in the dialogue is to prove that George is wrong and should change, even if she succeeds, their relationship will get worse. It will reinforce George’s stereotype of Rana as a “pushy, controlling woman.” He may change his outward behavior, but inwardly he will be even more resentful in the future. He will remain convinced that she is power hungry and be even more frustrated because now he’s not “allowed” to say anything about it.

Politically Incorrect (without Bill Maher) Those of you who are old enough to have been socially awake during the “Political Correctness” movement have witnessed first hand how that backfires horrendously. Those who spoke and acted out of their stereotyping mindsets were simply shamed as wrong and told to stop it. Everyone reading this now has lived in the backlash of it, even if you weren’t sure where it came from.

Resentments went deep and stealth-like a barely detectable destructive gas poisoning the environment of our social exchanges and doubling down on discrimination. As many gases do, those resentments were lit explosively by politicians who wanted to capitalize on the voicelessness and powerlessness that people who had been determining social norms (literally) for centuries were feeling, believing themselves to be “silenced.”

Can we not do that again? Please? Let’s instead learn how to have the real conversations that flow underneath the surface of our behavior.

The Right Conversation As we’ve seen, proving who is right or wrong creates more harm and does not resolve a thing. Imagine what would happen if the goal of the conversation was instead, to hear and to be heard? To understand the other person and how your view affects them, and for the other person to understand your view as well as how they are affecting you?

We may well still disagree on many things, but we could come at the obstacles in front of us from a posture of “you and me against the problem,” instead of “you against me.” Now, instead of wasting our energy and creativity on defending our “rightness,” we can use our combined strengths to problem-solve. We just multiplied our ability to be effective.

(Our blood pressure is probably also lower.)

But how?!?!? In the coming weeks, we will explore the following tools to help us get there:

In the meantime, I want to encourage you each to think through how your life might be different if people over time had understood you better. What might have happened if others had taken the time to try to understand you better? Now consider times when you might not have had the bandwidth to try to understand someone else. Understanding that person might not have changed anything outwardly. Sometimes we really don’t have the ability to change anything outside of us.

However, what might you have learned from the situation that could help you be more strategic and effective in the future?

I’ll meet you back in this space next week to help our duad with that “Clean up in Conference Room 5!”

Have a story to share about stereotyping? Share it Tiffany here!