Stereotype-Fu: Archetypes

Last column I discussed one way of dealing with stereotypes that come up in your career is to pick positive ones – and divert people stereotyping you to see you in a more positive light.  You pick one ahead of time to divert people who are stereotyping you.

Another option, a tougher one, is to use Archetypes.

To me the difference between Archetypes and Stereotypes is that a stereotypical view can have a sense of The Other – you can stereotype some and feel no relations to that person (in the case of nasty and negative stereotypes, this is a BIG part of it).  Archetypes are deeper than stereotypes – they're universal images and icons, concepts that we can all relate to in most part.  The Lover.  The Warrior.  The Parent.  The Sage.

If someone appears to be stereotyping you, you can also try and divert them into thinking of you Archetypically.  Pick an Archetype or set of Archetypes and when the stereotypes come out, find ways to direct people of thinking of your as an embodiment of the Archetype.  Let them see you in a more universal light – it helps them connect with you and breaks their stereotyping of you.

This is much tougher and can become pretty pretentious and silly if you do it wrong.  You need to find a way to communicate yourself-as-archetype when the stereotypes come out, and that takes a bit of practice.

  • One way is to simply relate or describe yourself in more universal terms – "I'm the classic artist who always experiments" "There's a person like me in every organization – the record-keeper."  These risk going into stereotypes, but are useful.
  • Relate yourself to any of your heroes or role-models – and ones that your target may understand.  This is a bit of a touchy choice – maybe the person in question hates Douglas Adams or never read Confucius – but you can try.
  • You might be able to give examples from classic myths,legends, fables, proverbs, etc.  This however is only advisable if it'll work on your audience.
  • Use fictional characters – this also has a danger in that you can look like a geek in the WRONG way, but it may be something people can relate to if you do it right.  I once actually got some understanding of my tendency to love information technology out of using a comic book metaphor.

Diverting stereotyping into seeing you in an archetypical is a tough act – but it's something to consider when you want "advanced stereotype-fu."

– Steven Savage