As Americans, we have spent A LOT of time over the past several months making broad, general statements to, and about each other – throughout the election process, and as the early days of the new administration have unfolded. Unfortunately, doing so only fans the flames of division.
For purposes of treating each other with respect, it is very important to NOT generalize.
When we generalize, we take what might have been a few unrepresentative instances and assign them as the rule. Once we do that, though – the new “rule” is always applied. We then see it reflected in the words we choose (all, always, never, etc.). For example: “He always leaves something out of his reports,” “She never listens to me,” “That generation is just lazy.” When such broad generalities are expressed once, they become so much easier for us to express and assume the next time. Then we begin using them automatically, almost subconsciously. To use such general and absolute terms when dealing with others prevents us from looking at each situation with fresh eyes to find unique solutions.
I often instruct my clients to write down the three words, “always,” “never” and “all.” Then I encourage them to put the universal “no” symbol through each of those words. Nothing is ever “always,” nor is it ever, “never,” and very rarely ever “all.” This simple process forces one to become conscious of the generalization pattern and begin paying attention to the language and assumptions they are using in approaching conflict.
Keeping our objective for respect, communication, conflict resolution and leadership in mind, (That being: “All people to feel comfortable and respected in our presence, while we stand our own ground and we get our message across.”) helps us look at each potential situation (each frustration, each conflict, each ruffled feather, each momentary irritation) as an opportunity to find a fresh solution.
Avoiding broad generalizations helps us view those opportunities uniquely, which is more productive.