frenchman.pngAnyone who has never seen in their mind's eye the chauvinistic Frenchman running around with his béret and his baguette (and the occasional stinky camembert and bottle of red wine) when they thought about the French and anyone who has never thought that the Germans are orderly and always on time please leave me a message.

While reading Nancy Adler's excellent International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior I came across this reflexion on stereotypes which made me rethink my first judgement, ie. stereotypes are bad™.

Stereotypes, like other forms of categories, can be helpful or harmful depending on how we use them. Effective stereotyping allows people to understand and act appropriately in new situations. A stereotype becomes helpful when it is:
*Consciously held. People should be aware they are describing a group norm rather than the characteristics of a specific individual.
*Descriptive rather than evaluative. The stereotype should describe what people from this group will probably be like and not evaluate the people as good or bad.
*Accurate. The stereotype should accurately describe the norm for the group to which the person belongs
*The first best guess about a group prior to acquiring information about the specific person or persons involved
*Modified, based on further observation and experience with the actual people and situations.[1]

The interesting part about stereotypes in the end is that they can be used as a tool which provides us with the necessary caution or distance we might need to avoid culture schock. Knowing that the Germans are always on time might save the day when you show up at a business meeting, although of course, there are Germans who are constantly late. But trust me, not all French wear a béret, although many do like baguette.

I find that Nancy Adler's list above answers the question asked by Rashunda: On the other hand, is it possible to not discriminate if you stereotype? [2], It is possible, but it takes a lot of thinking about it, I guess. I particularly like the idea that stereotypes can be shaped with experience and observation, which in turn produce other stereotypes, just different. A never-ending learning process.


[1] Adler, N.J., 2001. International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior 4 ed., Cengage Learning Services. p.81

[2] In a comment to my previous post. Interestingly enough, I started writing this post before Rashunda ever left her comment. You know what they say... great minds and all.