Practical Consequences of the Communication of Stereotypes in the Workplace (Part Three)

February 22nd, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

In the final blog post in an ongoing series on The Communicated Stereotype (Part One, Part Two), TCS discusses the practical consequences of communicating stereotypes in the workplace.

Practical Consequence #3 Awkwardness and Conflict

I was using a calculator to facilitate the addition of a long list of numbers. When the final number was given the response was, “I Knew that. Can’t you tell I’m Asian? We are good at mathematics! I didn’t know if this person was merely making a joke, or he felt like I had possibly discriminated against him in some way. It was obvious that I did not know how to respond. So he did the work for me. His next remark was said with a smile, “I am just kidding.” As I realized he was relaxed and in good spirits I relaxed as well, shrugged it off and cracked a smile.

James asked Mike how his night was and if he had made any tips. Mike replied “I bartended for a Bar Mitzvah, what do you think?” He was implying that of course he didn’t make any money because he was working a Jewish party. Initially, Mike, Joe, who was Jewish, and I laughed. James realizing that Pete would not take kindly to that comment stayed silent and gave Mike a sneer. However, Pete immediately confronted Mike saying, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I overheard a conversation between two co-workers. Mary claimed that she had told Bill the location of the package and asked him to please mail it, as it was a priority. Bill argued that he never heard her say anything about a package and in turn never mailed anything for her. With a roll of her eyes and a sigh, Mary turned to Bill and said “Augh, ya know, men never listen to anything women have to say.” In response, Bill turned and walked out of the room.

I began describing my problem to him. After two attempts he didn’t understand and I began speaking to him like he was a child, using sign language. “THE FAU-CET IN-MY-SHOW‑ER [making sprinkling motions with my hands] IS BROOOOO-KEN. CAN-YOU [pointing at him] FIX-IT?” I could tell that the super was embarrassed and a little mad at the same time. He then nodded his head “yes” and shut the door behind him. I went back to my apartment expecting him to show up a few minutes later to fix the problem; however, it ended up to be a few days later.

I had asked a coworker about possibly going out after work one of these days to grab a bite to eat. She agreed, but she wanted to wait until she got next week’s paycheck so that she would have some money. I told her she doesn’t need to have money. She responded by asking why. I went on to tell her that I would have to pay because that’s just how things are. She quickly became annoyed and told me that I was an idiot for thinking that way. In reality she did make a lot more money than me and I really didn’t have a lot of money to spend. She knew that too.

On a good day, communicating stereotypes in the workplace could only cause a little awkwardness. At their worst, they cause conflict, damage relationships, and are fodder for lawsuits.

This blog post series has named three subtle and important consequences for communicating stereotypes in the workplace. There are many many more.

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