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See people for who they are

WHEN we interact with other people on a daily basis, we formulate our opinions about them regarding their demeanour, language, appearance and other various ways in which people are ordinarily categorised.

Systems Think with Sam Hlabati

The way in which people get classified in our minds is always based on our perception, thus the way we see the world.

For example the judgement one makes about someone being rude is a result of the one judging having prior experience of meeting with other people previously who were relatively more polite as compared to the one they will be judging in the present moment.

What happens when we make judgements about other people is that we make inferences; which is the action or process of making conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true.

These inferences are what leaders and everyone else in the organisation would be busy making about their colleagues and all other human stakeholders they interact with.

We all appreciate that the people that are in organisations are different from each other in all aspects of a human being. The differences bring about emergent diversity which should be handled well by the leader so as to get the best out of the team.

Unfortunately no leader can boast about having a team that is fully heterogeneous with regard to the human aspects of the team members.

No two persons are the same; even identical twins would have different characters.

Diversity is such a reality that even a clone of a certain person would have its own memory and thoughts totally independent of the original; the vociferous proponents of human cloning will not dispute that fact.

The reality of leading teams is that the leader has to be aware of the existence of diversity and should endeavour to control the key behaviour of the team in embracing the attendant diversity.

Inherent in the differences between individuals and the reality of people’s interactions being influenced by their own perceptions which in turn are shaped by experience, beliefs and other behaviour moulding elements.

We always hear people making generalised statements about other individuals or groups. In our local society, you get to hear statements that categorise people according to different social strata.

Comments such as Vana Chihera vanopenga ne hasha (the ladies of the Shona Mhofu clan are quick to anger, Samaz ungoda chingezi (the people of the Manyika from the Eastern Highlands) ethnic group are obsessed with using English words). Social categorisation is at many levels, race, gender, age, ethnicity and nationality.

Races tend to ascribe to each other certain characteristics, usually negative manners, according to race. I will not give any examples for the reason of keeping this article free from any hate speech.

But you are obviously aware of one race being labeled as having a propensity to commit crime, another race apparently having racial segregation in their DNA across generations.

This reminds me of a live music performance I attended a couple years ago when Jazz musician Bob Nyabinde belted out a song called Ichokwadi here? (Is it true?) in which he chronicles the stereotypes we pass across generations in our society.

He mentions the stereotyping of teachers as being unintelligent, nurses as cruel, and police officers as crooks. He touches on the nerve of Oliver Mtukudzi’s classical lyrics that say munhu pane zvaano funga achinge aona munhu.

Translation of this is that everyone has an opinion about every other person. Remember having no opinion about another person is actually a “no opinion” opinion.

The underlying perceptions of each other of members in your team are the very glue that brings affinity in the team when such perceptions are positive.

If you are lucky that the perceptions of each other build affinity, then as a leader there is no need to spend sleepless nights thinking about team conflict; whether presently manifesting or likely to erupt.

Negative perceptions are the ones that ignite conflicts and need to be controlled.

Please quickly list the members of your team that you feel have negative characters influenced by their race, ethnicity, age, gender or other affiliations such as religion (dissected to the denominational group), political views and affiliation. Please do yourself a favour and look for a piece of paper and get on with that list.

Think of everyone in the team, think of that undesirable characteristic that annoys your sometimes.

You can even make a mental list if you do not have access to any thing that you can use for writing. Please STOP READING at the end of this sentence and do exactly that.

Have you noted the names, thank you for doing that.

You will notice that you have either written down or taken a mental note of people of specific categories who consistently annoy you because of their inherent behaviours.

I am sorry to bust your bubble, for truly most of the names you have taken note of are the people whom you perceive of possessing those characteristics because of your stereotyping tendency.

Okay let me shed light on what a stereotype is. It is a thought or belief that may be adopted by persons about specific types of individuals based on some classification of others; these thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality.

The very fact that you classified others due to some categories that you have in your mind means that you may struggle with embracing diversity, let alone lead others in embracing it.

Seeing that you have to overcome the prejudices of stereotyping at a personal level, you definitely could be unknowingly failing at leading others in embracing diversity.

Let us acknowledge that stereotyping others is a communal human error. Building meaningful relations relies heavily on a person’s ability to learn from other’ different perspectives.

The failure to notice diversity in an organisation and not approaching it with an open mind error most leaders make.

You may sheepishly say that you are not prone to stereotyping, but the reality is that you may be hiding behind a finger.

Just remember that stereotyping hampers meaningful interaction within your team. Once you have stereotyping then prejudice will be an immediate by-product. The prejudiced behaviour of team members will lead to discrimination in an organisation.

One can reasonably argue that racism at its height in Apartheid system was anchored by stereotyping.

Prejudice is a propensity to pre-judge others, taking away the humanitarian, approach of affording everyone an equal opportunity to prove their personal worth.

Stereotyping forces us to assign a predefined label to others. Based on such ill-gotten assumptions, we place individuals into groups of relevancy.

In an organisation; prejudicial behaviour instills unconstructiveness and unfair criticism.

As a leader, you must endeavour learn to interact with people at a personal level; accept that people are different. Let all your team members embrace the same understanding that people are diverse and not necessarily negatively divergent.

We all need to endeavour to learn from others things we do not understand; put your feet in others shoes considering what it would feel like to be on the other side of life.

I remember a conversation that I witnessed a few years back when I was out on lunch with a colleague in Cape Town, South Africa.

We were joined at our table by two gentlemen who were quite chatty. One of them asked my colleague where he came from, the answer was South Africa; the next question was here he stayed, the answer was Johannesburg; the following question was what his ethnic group was.

At this point the answer was accompanied by an angry tone “You are interrogating me to the smallest of details about myself, are you trying to categorise me….”

The next thing the interrogator and his colleague apologised and quickly left the table. The moment of the interrogation and outburst was relatively short yet eventful.

To help you the reader avoid stereotyping the parties in the conversation about, I can only confirm that the parties were all male but of different races.

You may be tempted to stereotype me as the author of this column. What do you think of newspaper columnists.

People of my colour (evident from my profile picture), people of my ethnic group based on my surname (which apparently can fit to a number of ethnic groups, Xhosa, Ndebele, Zulu and can natively be found in Zimbabwe and South Africa equally) and being male.

Shame, you are already stereotyping but you are now confused about my actual social identity given the said ethnic groups and the two countries.

Stop it, stop stereotyping. Some are saying that I am stereotyping them about stereotyping me; eish! No stereotyping. .

Sam Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). Email samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlabati

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