Black and White

Black and White

Not sure what it says about me but I love to have people blindfolded and led around while blindfolded. This, by the way, is usually part of a leadership training activity, not just with total strangers at the grocery store! 

When I debrief this activity one thing that always comes up is that even with strict instructions to the leaders to stay totally quiet, the people being led automatically are trying to figure out who is leading them. 

Why? 

When I push on this, the answer I get is that if they know who is leading them they will be better able to predict what their experience will be like. 

Interesting. 

Our brains love to jump ahead to be ready for the next experience. On the whole of course, this is good. However, our brain does not always get it right. Our need to package and predict can lead us to generalizations that are harmful and not helpful. 

Holding on to mystery and unpredictability is something I am growing to value more and more. The older I get, the less I see as black and white. This is true for so much of life but today I want us to ponder diversity. 

If you simply google benefits of diversity in the workplace you will see how popular a topic it is. There are plenty of studies now documenting the benefits both to the bottom line and to softer statistics like increased creativity and problem solving. 

Let’s bring it home though. 

Based on our own experiences we end up with assumptions about “men”, “women”, “black people”, “Millennials”, etc. Not only are these assumptions never true about all “men”, etc. but what ends up happening is that we don’t notice the exceptions. We don’t notice, for example, when a man just does the dishes if we have a stereotype that men don’t do much around the house. 

Stereotypes are often triggered by a larger than average experience of a certain population. When we notice that a few times we jump to conclusions about the whole population (it helps us control and predict). So, let’s make up a group so we don’t offend anyone. 

Let’s say that I have a bad experience with purple elephants driving. After 2 or 3 of these incidents I draw the conclusion that purple elephants are bad drivers. Now I will be looking for this and see many situations that back up my belief.  

I will NOT be noticing the purple elephants that I have no incidents with, not noticing the ones that are driving well. I won’t be able to tell you the ratio of bad to good purple elephant drivers. I will just be able to tell you that purple elephants make poor drivers. 

Even if the facts are that more purple elephants are poor drivers compared to pink ones the chance is good that my stereotype is no where near the actual statistical difference. 

So, some of us have to be honest with ourselves about the stereotypes we hold about groups of people and remember that our world is made up of individuals and that we should offer credit to others like we would like offered to us. 

Let’s take this down another level though. 

My experience of a certain person may have been negative in some way. That same tendency our brain has to make assumptions still applies. You let me down before so I should probably expect you to do that again. I may as well not ask much of you because you will probably not come through. We end up not asking much of others or judging them pre-maturely. We send them messages about how little we expect of them. Like that old saying, but tweaked, whether you think they can or think they can’t, you are right.  

Where do you need to examine your judgments and assumptions? (We all do.) 

Until next time, 

Marilyn 

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