Cultural Intelligence and Leadership: What is the difference between generalization and stereotype?

A stereotype is a belief about a cultural group that one applies to every member of that group. Stereotyping is grounded in judgment and selective analysis; it may come from prejudice or simply a refusal to learn and accept different views about the group.
Generalization is a principle or an idea that has general, but not specific, application. After acquiring information about the cultural norms and values of a certain group, one may observe interactions with members of that group, and hypothesize whether their behavior derives from culture or from that individual’s personality.

If you work with someone from culture A and that person is always late, would it be correct to think that ALL persons from that culture are late? Have you observed whether that person realizes that they are constantly tardy, or how that is affecting others? Do you know how time is perceived in that person’s culture, or if there is anything that indicates it would be OK not to be punctual in their cultural group?

Stereotyping is never good. A culturally intelligent leader knows not to put a label on people – especially not on the account of their age, gender or country of origin. Even what could be considered a “positive” stereotype may be harmful: saying “oh, guys from X country are tall” without realizing that your colleague’s husband is a short guy will definitely backfire. Informed generalizations, on the other hand, may be useful as a first hypothesis – when you understand a few basic cultural norms of a certain group, you should use it as a first clue to interpret communication and behavior when interacting with members of that group. But we must be cautious not to take our knowledge about a certain group and expect that EVERY person coming from that culture will act the same way.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) will help you distinguish cultural traits from personality attributes; maintain respect, and bring out the best in each team member when leading across cultures.

By Viviane Vicente