I was about to start a meeting this week, and before I began I asked myself, “What do I need to be aware of during this meeting?”
My answer? ”Let go of any preconceived ideas.”
That’s a great place to start. By putting aside your past experiences or even what you expect to happen in the meeting, you allow yourself to be open and curious to what is happening.
Your own preconceived notions of others, or your fear of being stereotyped, can have a big impact on how you behave.
In an NPR interview, Columbia University provost and social psychologist Claude Steele shared his views:
“When we’re in situations where a negative stereotype about one of our identities – our age, our race, our gender – is applicable…then the prospect of being reduced to a negative stereotype can be upsetting and distracting and interfere with performance and functioning in general.”
In addition to worrying about how we will be stereotyped, we allow our experiences to stereotype others. We drag in our emotional baggage and leave it scattered all around the room. We shove that baggage into other’s arms, and view them through its lens. Oh you’re a Christian? Here’s a bag for you. You’re vegan? Boy-oh-boy this big one’s for you. Our subconscious moves through the room doling out the baggage before anyone can get a chance to express themselves.
Gee whiz. That’s not so great.
We know we can achieve more by being open to new ideas, and appreciating our team members.
So now what? How can we begin to dump that baggage?
One of Steele’s suggestions is to name the stereotype and then discount it.
For example if you want more diversity in who is speaking up in your meetings, begin by saying,
“We often believe that the quiet ones are quiet because they have no ideas – but we know that’s not actually the case. Please be respectful and give everybody the space they need to add to this discussion.”
Naming the stereotype and outwardly discounting it relieves the ingrained dialogue, and helps the stereotyped person shed their baggage and step into themselves.
As for you? Remember that you can overcome the negative stereotypes others apply to you by being yourself, and letting their experience of you inform their opinion. By being aware of the effect your fear-of-stereotyping has on you, you can choose to turn away from it and leave your baggage at the door.
Go out, be brave, work to shed yourself and others from that old baggage so we can get some new and better outcomes and build a better world. Love to you all!