Several years ago, when I was an employee of a large blue chip company I was amongst a group of colleagues that were invited to a ‘fireside chat’ with a new head of department. Whilst he was sharing his thoughts with us he pointed out to us that ‘all generalisations are wrong’. In a moment of less than career enhancing excitement I pointed out that his statement was a generalisation and therefore must be wrong and consequently we all entered the paradox that he had created (with my help).
But as Robert Cialdini tells us (Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion) our brains are inherently lazy and have a tendency to go for the easy option – he calls it a “click/whirr” response. I believe that generalisations are part of this process. It is easier to lump groups together to make decisions rather than take the time to look at the individual pieces.
As an example, I have a close friend who sees himself as a socialist and has some very clear ideas about his values and beliefs, which are laudable. Sometimes, when we get together he gets into Banker bashing – all the fat cats, with their huge bonuses, ripping us all off. My background in financial services then leads me to stick up for the many tens of thousands of hard working branch and departmental staff who do care about their customers and try their best to provide an excellent service. However, it is easier to focus on the wrong doers and slag off the profession as a whole.
Of course, bankers are not alone. All journalists lie and cheat to get a good story, all politicians are more interested in fiddling their expenses rather than looking out for the interests of their constituents, all teachers are more interested in league tables than they are in educating our children, etc. Now there is a new kid on the block – the NHS. Because of the actions of a few, the NHS, which employs approx. 1.7 million people (the fifth largest employer in the world!), doesn’t care about any of its patients and their employees only begrudgingly provide a modicum of care if they have to and haven’t got anything better to do.
These bandwagons are very easy to jump upon. As we all know, behaviour breeds behaviour; so if we allow our beliefs (based on these generalisations) to influence our behaviour it will affect the relationships we have with these organisations/individuals and inevitably we will get the results that we deserve, which will in turn justify our beliefs. Put more briefly – life reciprocates our belief of it.
So, before we are swept away by these generalisations both in the wider world and in our own relationships (either in work or out of it) – stop and think. Am I acting/behaving based on what I know to be true about the INDIVIDUAL in front of me that I am dealing with or am I acting/behaving based on some generalist, received opinion of the masses. Make the right choice as you will have to live with the consequences of the results your interaction generates.
All generalisations are wrong!