Thursday, 8 September 2011

Stereotyping is just a 'shortcut' - Not a Crime!

When I finished reading Cialdini's The Psychology of Persuasion I was particularly satisfied with his final chapter which I will discuss further on in my blog. Before that, I would like to explain why I have titled this piece as I have.

In recent years it has become almost a crime to utter any sort of suggestion where we might be stereotyping. But to do this is to misunderstand one of our greatest gifts, which is to use our intuition and develop 'shortcuts' as Cialdini calls them.

Let me explain:

I truly believe that intuition is a result of millions of pieces of information that we take in, on a subconscious basis, especially if that is reinforced by personal experiences on a conscious basis. When we take an instant dislike to someone or an instant warmth to another human being, it is not down to just random thought processes.

Let's take hoodies for an example, one which is often mentioned. When I feel uncomfortable around a group of people wearing such clothes, it is not merely their headwear that will cause me to be vigilant, but perhaps a look in their eyes where I will see something that makes me feel uncomfortable and on edge. I have always trusted this gut feeling and it has rarely let me down. However this does not mean that I believe I am in danger, just I know my subconscious has computed something which I would be a fool to ignore. It's called survival!

If I take an instant dislike to someone, then I will look for all the evidence to show that I am wrong (yes I repeat, that I am wrong!). I believe everyone has good intentions unless they are in a bad place and I like to find that. Again though, I will eventually work out what it was that made me feel that I would not connect properly with someone because I accept that we will not all be able to work or play with everyone we meet, for all sorts of reasons.

Cialdini talks about the principle of social proof and where one of our shortcuts is to like things that 'people like us' would like too. This is how advertising works. This is, in effect, a form of stereotyping, don't you think?

He talks about things such as long queues outside clubs, that make us want to go in because we are made to believe it must be good, if so many people are doing this, only to find it is nearly empty when we go in. He calls this 'treachery' because it is harming our gift to create shortcuts. Something we need more and more of these days, with all the information that bombards us!

he suggests that we complain loudly when we see such trickery, in order that it is no longer effective and thus protecting the accuracy of our shortcuts. I have always said this and so totally agree.

I loved it, not just because he delivers this theory in such an eloquent and intelligent way but because it helps me to explain why stereotyping does not have to be a negative thing! Judgements are here to stay so let's just understand why we think and feel the way we do sometimes. And above all, never ignore your intuition!