How stereotypes affect communication

The modern society was supposed to be a promise of a more liberal and accepting one but as we move towards becoming a Global village, we find ourselves plagued with basic roadblocks in effective communication such as stereotyping. Stereotyping is when a substantial amount of people believes in an assumption that is not only oversimplified but also not based on factual knowledge or just on a handful of experiences which do not justify the generalisation of an entire community or things. To understand stereotyping, we must understand that we tend to form instinctive associations in our minds regarding people and things to make the initial encounters more comfortable. As per Neuro scientists, these initial judgements are coping mechanism humans used as part of survival and to evolve. However, stereotypes often get ingrained in our minds and it becomes difficult to move past them, reflections of which become prominent in our communication.

The key to effective communication lies in listening and understanding to the perspectives of the people you are communicating with but when one lets preconceived notions influence this, we automatically start pushing our expectations of how the individual must react based on our categorisation of that particular individual. This ranges from racial profiling to cultural profiling and even gender profiling. The nature of such assumptions can be subtle and used to indicate a positive perception. For example, believing that people of African descent are born athletes. However, this seemingly innocuous stereotype, if proved to be true in any particular case can also reaffirm the negative stereotypes about people from the same community. We make this connection between negative and positive stereotypes based on the idea that our initial assumption of the person or community was accurate so the other associations made in the same regard must also be true. Every so often we do not notice the subtle nuances of such categorization in our communications. But it may be detected by the person it is projected upon and that in turn would affect their approach.

However, we must also acknowledge that stereotypes are a part of how we process information, thus, a product of our communication. The most common solution to such barriers in communication is to treat each encounter as a unique one and not let our bias influence our message.  Nonetheless, this may not be sustainable in our day to day communiqué. Among solutions offered by scholars to counter bias communication one interesting perspective was to add more traits in existing stereotypes and make it more complex and accurate with accordance to the reality of the groups being categorised. The drawback here is that stereotypes find roots in society over a period of time and are not subject to instant change. Any solution offered to combat cultural pigeonholes must be justifiable over a period of time and practical in different aspects of our daily communication.

A more concrete step towards bringing about systemic change in the way we handle cross cultural communication should start with educating the masses. An elaborate look at stereotypes and intercultural communication can benefit the society when commenced at an early age which in turn would encourage fresh perspectives and long-term solutions.

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