The World of Work Project

Self-revealed Stereotypes Activity

The self-revealed stereotypes activity is a tool derived from family therapy which can be used to help bring divided groups together. In it, groups reflect on the negative stereotypes that exist in relation to them, refute most of the stereotypes and reflect on any truths they may contain.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Self revealed stereotypes activity

The self revealed stereotypes activity derives from ideas used in the domain of family therapy. Its purpose is to break down barriers, acknowledge and over come negativity, reveal lived experiences and to help individuals see people from other groups as humans and individuals.

This activity is about sharing and really seeing each other, not about changing behaviors.

The activity is not at all about trying to change views or opinions. Instead, it is about trying to help people see how others may have reached their opinions and about helping people see each other as individuals and as humans.

How the activity works

The stereotypes activity starts by dividing the participants into their “in-groups”. This means grouping all the people from one “in-group” together, and all the people from another group “in-group” together. If this was done in a political environment this would mean grouping all the Republicans together and all the Democrats together in the US, or perhaps grouping all the Labour supporters together and Conservatives together in the UK. In a work context this could mean getting people into their teams, diversity networks, or similar.

Part 1 – Brainstorming negative stereotypes

Part 1 requires some thinking.

Each group spends time brainstorming what they think the negative stereotypes that exist about them as a group are. They capture the negative stereotypes on a flip-chart as they identify them. Once both groups have completed this discussion, this part of the activity ends.

Part 2 – Refuting the stereotypes

The second part of the activity starts the sharing process. And it’s here that groups start to get to understand each other and the lived experiences that have led to the variously held opinions.

Each group presents what they discussed to the other group. They start the process by talking through the negative stereotypes which they think others believe about them. They then talk though them and refute them, explaining why they disagree with the points, why they think they are unfounded and how their lived experiences support the view that the stereotypes are unfounded.

Part 3 – A germ of truth

Lastly, having refuted the stereotypes that they think relate to them, each group then searches for the “germ of truth” that may exist within those stereotypes. They should say that though they don’t fully agree with them, that there may be some slight truth underlying these stereotypes and they acknowledge what this is and share it. This is a form of accepting some of the negativity that relates to their identity, and acknowledging this to the other group in the activity.

Is there a little germ of truth in there?

Outcomes of the Activity

Once both the groups taking part in the activity have shared their analysis of the stereotypes that exist in relation to them, the activity is over and the groups can move on to further activities.

The outcomes that should be achieved as a result of this activity include improved self-awareness for each of the groups, improved understanding of how your group is perceived and some acceptance of any negative aspects of your group.

You might not achieve a group hug through the activity, but it’s nice to aim high.

The fact that this all takes place in a spaced shared with another group results in connections being formed between the groups. The acknowledgement of fallibility is almost of a form of vulnerability which helps build bridges.

Also, the reflections on lived experiences throughout the play-back stage helps each group get to see the other group as people and individuals. This, hopefully, helps them gain some understanding of why they think the things they do and behave in the ways that they do.

The World of Work Project View

This activity can be very powerful, and a fair bit of its power derives from the fact that it’s not about changing anyone’s mind. It’s just about being exposed to people whose views are different to your own and reflecting and sharing, which is often a great way to start this type of de-polarizing activity.

Another hugely powerful element of this activity is that it gets each of the “in-groups” to not just refute the negative stereotypes that exist about them, but also to talk about the germs of truth that exist within them. This means that each group discloses and acknowledges some of the negative views that others have of them, which helps to clear the air and address potential “elephants in the room”.

Competition doesn’t always breed the best behaviors.

Overall we think this activity is an excellent activity, but we’re not entirely sure how or when it would be used in the work context. We also wonder how willing groups would be to share their negative stereotypes with others in a competitive work environment.

Despite this we think the activity could be very useful for certain culture change activities, for helping particularly siloed teams (or divisions) build bridges with each other and for us in the inclusion and diversity space. We wonder though if this activity might be most useful for teams to complete on their own as a way to build their “team self awareness”. We’d love to see this in action at some point, but have never used it ourselves.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

Though this activity derives from the world of family therapy, we actually learned about it from the work of the American charity, “Better Angels” who work on de-polarizing politics in the USA. You can learn more about their work from their website, here.


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