Stereotype-Fu – Draw Them In

As I have noted ad nauseum (and as we've seen ad nauseum), stereotypes often raise their heads in the business/career world.  We, being fanboys, fangirls, geeks, otaku, metalheads, what have you, can face some pretty annoying stereotypes in our professional lives.  Dealing with it intelligently is a way to both keep our sanity – and we can always turn it around to our advantage.

One of the oddest cases of being stereotypes in the work world, from an interview to a client discussion, is when the people stereotyping us FIT the very stereotype they're inflicting on us.  The person that jokes about you being a game geek themselves can repeat dialogue from Final Fantasy 7 verbatim (with voices).  The person that jokes about your body piercings has enough metal in their body to make a toolkit.  The person who snubs your taste in emo music listens to songs so depressing they're banned in several countries.

This is annoying.  This is hypocritical.

THIS is a chance to engage in some stereotype-fu and turn the stereotyping to your advantage – by connecting with the person in a way that changes their views and relations to you.

When the person stereotyping you shares the very traits they're stereotyping, don't call them out, don't critique them.  Turn it to your advantage and use it to relate to them – draw them into the stereotype themselves in a positive way (as mentioned elsewhere, a sense of humor helps).

So when that person whose desk looks like a sports museum jokes about your baseball collection, when the person who has cosplayed every Senshi from sailor moon calls you an Otaku – draw them in and relate to them.

How?  Joke about how "of course I love this stuff – don't you?"  Comment, perhaps with a hint of conspiracy, that you and the person who just stereotyped "really get it" about music, or sports, or anime.  Note that perhaps you share geekery.  Note you are alike.

This helps in several ways:

  • It helps disarm the negative stereotypes for that person.  You've just subtly helped reduce the negativity that may be in their mind by making THEM part of the stereotype.
  • It builds bridges with that person.  What was a way of putting you in a conceptual category has become a way to connect with that person – and they can see you differently.
  • It puts you in a positive light – as the person now sees you as being like them (Unless of course they've got a lot of self-loathing, and that's another problem entirely).

So go ahead.  Next time you get stereotyped by someone dangerously close to the stereotype, draw them in and make it positive.  Use a little stereotype-fu to make them see you – and themselves – differently.

– Steven Savage