“Othering”: it’s sneaky.
I heard something during our last Cross-Generational Communication webinar I didn’t like. Something coming from my own mouth. I was othering.
In the early part of our content, we define the generations along with some generally recognized characteristics of each that pertain to communication. As I was describing Millennials – not my generation – I became aware of my voice saying, “They…” repeatedly. It left a bad taste.
Being Aware of Othering
They is a perfectly good word, but in that context It felt like I was reinforcing stereotypes, which was the last thing I wanted to do.
Participants often come to the webinar with already formed stereotypes. The culture at large encourages them, too. Awareness of our own biases is necessary before we can move beyond them to respect, mutual learning, and collaboration. We include the descriptions of the generations in our content as an entry point to the topic and to point out the dangers of misunderstanding that can result from false assumptions based on one characteristic – in this case, age.
I realized, though, that this they that I heard myself saying could very well be interpreted at face value as othering a whole group of people, which is toxic to communication and human relations.
In a webinar on communication, I was in danger of miscommunicating. Just goes to show that we are all constantly learning.
Learning Why We “Other”
Othering, according to Dr. Glen Geher, professor of psychology at State University of New York (SUNY), is the manifestation of outgroup homogeneity bias, or the tendency of humans to assume that their own group contains lots of diversity and individuality, but members of another group are all the same. “It’s like ‘We are all different from one another. But them? They are all the same!’” he says in an article for Psychology Today. “We create ‘others’” consistently and in a very basic way. Country of origin, state of origin, sports team preference, profession, etc.”
And ethnicity. Political allegiance. Age.
The list could go on.
The Consequences of Othering
Othering shuts down effective communication and creates conflict rather than resolving it. It separates. Collaboration, creative thinking, and a positive culture become casualties.
Curiosity counters othering. Further on in the webinar, we encourage participants to nurture a genuine interest in the lives and perspective of diverse persons, age-wise or otherwise, to ask questions and listen with an open mind. It’s not always easy, but the positive fruit is worth the effort.
Real differences exist or generational communication would not be an issue, which it is. We are still thinking through how to better handle generational profiles in our content so that we more clearly model bridging the divide instead of reinforcing the very stereotypes that too often hinder communication and collaboration.
Learning How To Stop Othering Together
There are so many opportunities in cross-generational collaboration. The multigenerational workforce is a leading trend for the foreseeable future. We work with organizations and individuals to strengthen communication skills that will create high-functioning teams, welcome diverse perspectives, and even improve the bottom line.
Our training course is designed as a resource for organizations. Contact us today to learn more and schedule one for your group. We also offer consulting to individuals or organizations. Use the contact link to request a call.