It sneaks into most of my workshops. It pops up in a lot of my conversations. It’s the big hairy beast of generalizations.
“Don’t you find that all men think like that?”
“Women are more emotional than men.”
“Everyone does it.”
“It is like that here.”
I don’t like being argumentative and when someone is assaulting me with big hairy generalizations, I find I can’t help but sound that way.
“No, all men don’t think like that.”
“I do know some women who are not emotional at all.”
“I don’t do it, so surely not everyone does.”
“It can be different here too.”
Do we not remember the sage advice our parents gave us as teenagers?
“But Dad, everyone has a purple Mohawk at school!” I would proclaim
“If everyone at school jumped off a bridge, would you?” was the inevitable response.
What my father meant to say is that generalizations rarely help communicate meaning. What my father could have said was:
“What you’re saying is that it seems like a lot of people have purple Mohawks and because some of those people are your friends and you want to fit in, you want a Mohawk too. “
Perhaps that would have taught me to stop using generalizations to make a point.
In NLP we help people understand that our brain naturally generalizes information to organize it and make sense of it. We also show people how to recover the lost information from a generalization by asking questions.
“Who specifically thinks like that?”
“Do you know a women who isn’t emotional?”
“Who is everyone, exactly?”
By recovering details from the generalization, we open our minds up to the possibility that people are individuals and their behavior can seldom be grouped into a general statement.
So when someone says to me, “Americans are loud”. I ask them to rephrase it to, “I notice a lot of loud people seem to be American”.
“Asians are spatially unaware. ” to “I sometimes notice people running into me a lot in Asia.”
Maybe it would be good to practice keeping the big hairy beast of generalizations away from your conversations today.