Practical Consequences of the Communication of Stereotypes in the Workplace (Part Two)
In an ongoing blog post series on The Communicated Stereotype, TCS discusses the practical consequences of communicating stereotypes in the workplace.
Practical Consequence # 2 Misguided Attempts to Help Based on Stereotypes can Sour People
My friend’s arm was cut severely and I had never, ever seen so much blood. He was wheeled into a room where he was still bleeding profusely. I waited outside. To make matters worse, a male nurse came out of the room and made a very disturbing comment to me. He said, “Are you afraid of blood? Does blood gross you out because I know a lot of girls are? If you are, I would suggest you not go in the room because you might thump to the floor.” After the nurse made that comment to me, I responded quietly, “No, I’m not, but thanks.”
I called on the telephone to make a dermatologist appointment for my son. I asked whether the doctor who I had used before would be willing to have an infant as a patient even though he was not a pediatric dermatologist. The receptionist, trying to be of help, responded, “Yeah. I guess. But you may be better off seeing, well, we have a female doctor. She may work out better.” She assumed that the female doctor, by virtue of her being female, would naturally be better equipped to handle an infant. Despite her suggestion, I made the appointment for the male doctor I originally had inquired about.
I was training a new girl at work. Now this girl is a tiny girl so I said to her, “this tray is very heavy, I’ll show you an easy way to carry it since you’re a little girl. It will be easier to rest in on your shoulder instead of holding it up in the air.” This did not go over well with this new girl. She got very offended and grabbed the heavy tray, held it high in the air, and said with an attitude, “even little girls can handle big jobs!!”
When trying to help someone the last thing you want is to annoy the person you are trying to help. This is a problem whether it occurs between co-workers or with customers. Offering help because of self-evident need rather than assumptions based on stereotypes is a better strategy to help people in the workplace where the cost of inadvertently annoying someone can be high.