From Stereotypes To Generalizations


There is a big difference in how we can approach cultural norms and behaviors that are different from our own. Whether we employ stereotypes or generalizations when framing diverse cultural preferences means the difference between rejecting or being able to adapt to new cultural contexts.

Stereotypes are judgmental beliefs about a group or members of a group and are thought to be accurate, without any room for interpretation. Stereotypical statements usually start with the words “all” or “none” or “everyone” or “no one.” They are protected from contrary information. Therefore, we use the image of a closed door to represent stereotypes.

Generalizations, on the other hand, are non-judgmental and tend to start with statements such as, “In my experience,” or “From what I’ve seen, I can say that…” Generalizations recognize their inherent limitations and allow new information in. They are devoid of judgment and open to change. That is why we use the image of an open door to represent generalizations.

We recommend that culturally competent professionals follow generalizations, not stereotypes in work situations. By approaching situations with an open mind and a willingness to change our thoughts about and reactions to certain behaviors, we set ourselves up to become thoroughly culturally competent and able to adapt to and work with different cultural preferences.  

Lynne Putz