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Perceptions & Stereotypes



July 2014
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Our  approach  to  our  work  and  to  life  itself  is  riddled  with  pre-conceived notions. Perceptions that we form about others as well as ourselves,based either on experiences or due to social conditioning, play an important role in determining how we deal with situations and people in our daily lives.How we perceive  a  particular  problem  or  individual  often  colours  our  approach  in dealing  with  them and  may lead  to  sub-optimal  performance  and  therefore results.

Objectivity  becomes  critically  important  when  we  are  taking  decisions  or making assessments, whether at the work place or outside.In such situations we need to rid ourselves of all previous notions, biases and prejudices and approach the task at hand with an open mind.

Stereotypes are a result of such skewed perceptions.A single experience or event may lead us to associating a particular trait with an entire community or group of people, irrespective of the fact that human nature and behaviour is highly variable and unpredictable.Such stereotypes can either be unrealistically flattering or demeaning. The Irish are miserly and Indians make excellent IT professionals. Japanese are all about traditions and Australians are rough and aggressive.

Such stereo-typing leads to assumptions which makes us behave and act in a particular manner to a specific group or individuals from such groups.Our behaviour towards these groups or individuals from these groups can impact our basis  assumptions  and  stereo-typing  may  actually  produce  behaviour  and conduct which can be in conformity with our own assumption.

“I Am Like That Only….”

“I am useless at……..”



“But Iampathetic withnumbers”



“I can never remember directions…”



“How do people manage to remember names?”

A far more serious problem arises when we indulge in“self-stereotyping”– when we develop fixed notions about our own capabilities and potential.Such notionsariseoutofafewchanceeventsandoftenaffectourperformancesdue to a limited estimation o four own abilities and lack of self belief.


Such self-images are often reinforced by people around us leading to a strengthening of the incorrect notion that we have developed about ourselves. Reinforcement maybe of two types:

Positive Reinforcement – In this case we are convinced we possess a particular trait which is reinforced by those around us as a positive one. Funny thing is that such a positive re-inforcer actually helps one perform at a higher level than one is actually capable of. However, often enough a negative trait may be considered a positive one simply because of the way it is put to us. For example, you may have heard people very proudly say “I am brutally honest”, whereas the truth is the person is unreasonably rude and insensitive. On the other hand a, “Oh, you’re much too honest” may have the opposite effect.

Negative Reinforcement–Past experiences may lead to a situation where we believe that we are not suited to deal with particular situations or perform certain tasks.The notion is reinforced by others who believe equally strongly in our“disability”. This leads to a situation where we fail to even attempt certain tasks as we believe ourselves unequal to performing them.

I happen to know a young lady who right from her childhood has been told that she was directionally challenged and could never manage to find her way around public places.Over the years this self image was re- inforced and she was convinced that she was“directionally challenged”. Recently she had to travel to a new city alone and was absolutely terrified of losing her way.However,once she had rid herself of this notion (I am not getting into the process involved therein)she managed to do very well all by herself.All that she needed to do was to convince herself that she is not“directionally challenged”!!!


Positive and negative re-inforcers create aself-image in our minds that we either consciously or sub-consciously try to live upto.Most often the images arise due to the observations,comments or remarks of others.What we do there after contributes to the“living upto”these lf image thus created.  One of there sons for people failing to achieve their goals or live up to their dreams is the fact that they try to adhere to this self image that has been created int heir minds.More than incompetence or lack of potential, this becomes the limiting factor.


If we have to achieve,big we need to dream big and to have the belief that we are capable of converting our dream into reality.The first step in that direction would be to generate positive self image.- By Prof Ayaz . A. Shafi






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