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Using Generalizations Without Sterotyping

Generalizing about cultures can be a great tool for better anticipating the behaviours, values, and norms of a particular culture. Learning to generalize about your own culture is considered one of the first steps in becoming skilled in intercultural communication. Generalizing can be an especially helpful tool for avoiding conflicts and embarrassments. However, it is extremely important to understand the difference between generalizations and stereotypes, as well as how to use one without the other.

A generalization helps you to be a better intercultural communicator while a stereotype undermines any communication with or about the "other."

An easy way to prevent yourself from unintentionally stereotyping a given culture through a generalization is to make sure you only use generalizations to predict and not to judge. The moment you begin to make a judgment on a generalization (deciding something is bad/good), is the moment you begin to stereotype. Be descriptive and objective and be clear about how limited your knowledge base is.

Avoid using limited personal experience to make a generalization. Your personal experiences are a good start to understanding another culture, but beware of making generalizations from them alone. Do all people from your culture or even from your own family act and think as you do?! Just because a particular person from a particular culture acts, values, eats in a certain way, does not mean anyone else does! We all know cases where someone is considered an expert on a particular culture on the basis of limited exposure. Instead, balance personal experiences with new encounters, journals, books and articles. Continue to collect reliable, unbiased, information on the common aspects of a culture.

Also, remember that people are always changing and every generation differs from the one before. Any generalization is only a hypothesis and as soon as new evidence becomes available, it must be re-evaluated. Remember that Canada experienced much gender segregation not too long ago—can you imagine if people still stereotyped most Canadians as being sexist?

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