“You might want to publish a blog on this subject,” a friend wrote recently. “I had attended a play concerning the Holocaust,” she continued. “And afterward, I was conversing with another woman I had known for years in our particular, though different, professional roles.”
“Do you know much about the Holocaust?” she asked. “And I replied: ‘Yes, quite a bit. I was a history major in college, with a particular interest in World War II. In fact, studying the Holocaust has been something of an avocation of mine ever since.’”
“Later, I thought, that’s interesting. As long as I’ve known that woman–primarily professionally, rather than personally–she has apparently ‘pigeon-holed’ me, having no idea that I might have other interests, even expertise, in anything else besides my work.”
“I wonder if I’ve done the same to others?” she then acknowledged.
“Pigeon-holing” hardly carries the negative connotation of “stereotyping,” much less “prejudice.” But it does, nonetheless, involving “putting whom/whatever” into at least “some sort of box.”
I did, however, once have a graduate student in a Human Relations class–a Naval officer–suggest an example of what he called “positive stereotyping.”
“The ribbons or medals on a sailor’s uniform,” he said. “They stereotype that sailor in a positive way, suggesting that one can assume s/he has had certain training and experience and can therefore be expected to perform at a particular level of expertise regarding what those ribbons and medals represent.”
In my book, Balanced Living: Don’t Let Your Strength Become Your Weakness (Wipf and Stock, 2009), I devote a chapter to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a popular tool for understanding unique human functioning and relational styles. Indeed, the Myers-Briggs has been used in a variety of settings, from management training to marriage counseling.
One of the paradigms in the Myers-Briggs is that of the Senser and the Intuitive. Remembering that these characteristics are relative, rather than absolute, more de-scriptive than pre-scriptive, more suggestive than necessarily defining, Sensers tend to “pigeon-hole” more typically than do Intuitives. Or as we often hear it said, Intuitives tend to “think outside the box” moreso than do their Sensing counterparts, who seem to have a pretty high need for various kinds of “boxes” into which they can “put” whomever or whatever.
For example, when hiring, a more Sensing employer/supervisor will generally give more weight to an applicant’s resume than a more Intuitive employer/supervisor. In that the resume represents a more “objective” description of what the person has previously done, in terms of education, training and work experience, and therefore would likely be expected to perform successfully in a new, but similar work setting.
Whereas the more Intuitive employer/supervisor will often attach greater value to the interview itself, as in how the applicant presents him/herself and responds to certain questions or hypothetical scenarios. In other words, the more Intuitive employer/supervisor’s interviewing approach tends to be more “subjective.”
As an example of not “pigeon-holing,” I write in my book: “Willie Mays could play left field.” Except there I suggest that if one doesn’t understand that analogy, it may be because of how little s/he knows about baseball rather than whether s/he is more of a Senser than an Intuitive.
Here, however, I’ll explain. In baseball, the best outfielder is usually the center fielder. That’s where Willie Mays played. The center fielder is typically the fastest of the three outfielders, having “more ground to cover” than either the left fielder or the right fielder. Just as the center fielder usually has the strongest throwing arm, except for, in some cases, the right fielder. Whereas the left fielder, compared to his two counterparts, usually has the weakest throwing arm.
Got it? In other words, Willie Mays could obviously have played the least demanding of outfield positions, that of the left fielder. Otherwise, to think that Mays could only be a center fielder, that would be the “pigeon-holing” of arguably the best outfielder to ever play major league baseball.
Again, the more Intuitive employer/supervisor is more likely to think in “possibilities” than the more Sensing employer/supervisor. By considering that an applicant may, for instance, be able to be successful in a job s/he may have never done before, however unrelated, the more Intuitive employer/supervisor is “thinking outside the box,” which the more Sensing employer/supervisor is less likely, in most situations, to do.
What I’m describing is also observable in the different tendencies of employers/employees in most work settings. The more Intuitive a person tends to be, s/he will often be looking for a “different” way (a “better” way, a “faster, more efficient, more cost-effective” way?) to do this or that. While the more Sensing person is usually more concerned with what the “rule book” or “procedural manual,” common in most organizations, “allows” or “permits” one to do or not do
With respect to what I’m suggesting about “pigeon-holing” tendencies, in their popular Myers-Briggs book, Please Understand Me (Prometheus Nemesis Books, 1978), authors David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates offer a list of revealing words that contrast the tendencies of the Senser and the Intuitive. Here are some examples:
Realistic Speculative Actual Possible
As for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, its emphasis is not on valuing. Since, depending on the situation, either Sensing or Intuitive styles can be equally valuable. Just as the MBTI isn’t concerned with etiology, with “why” people are different, as in the contrasting tendencies of the Senser and the Intuitive with respect to, among any number of other characteristics, “pigeon-holing.”
My applying “pigeon-holing” tendencies to work settings, as I’ve done here, is because it is in the world of work that such a tendency is so often observable–at least on the part of those who are more Sensing in their decision-making and typical behavior. I’ve also used work-world examples because “pigeon-holing,” as I’ve noted, carries a more benign connotation than does “stereotyping,” and certainly “prejudice.” Otherwise, I might have used examples of “pigeon-holing” from a host of other settings and circumstances.
Finally, here is a different but related perspective on “pigeon-holing.” At least to my way of primarily Intuitive thinking. In his development of Transactional Analysis, the late psychiatrist, Eric Berne, claimed that the two most important social-psychology questions to ask regarding anyone are: 1) “How do they get their strokes (their ego recognition)?” and 2) “How do they structure their time?”
With respect to the latter, Berne suggested the following “time structures.” Notice, they range from “less intimate” to “more intimate.” And by “intimate,” he is referring to a quality of “open-ness” and “close-ness” that is not necessarily sexual in nature. Since so much so-called “sex” can often be more exploitative (even mutually so) than necessarily “intimate” (in the fullest and best sense of what the word means or connotes).
1. Withdrawl can be literal or emotional. As in, for example, the literal avoiding of unpleasant, even uncomfortable situations. Or, in such circumstances, even if physically present, hardly in any other way (as in not being “emotionally available”).
2. Rituals. Things we do habitually, without even thinking about what we’re doing, even when others are involved. What examples could you provide?
3. Activities are generally considered “work,” which can often be carried out in fairly “im-personal” ways.
4. Whereas Pastimes tend to be more “personal” in nature, such as hobbies.
It’s interesting that likely the most common question we ask when meeting someone “new” is “What do you do?” (referring, of course, to their “work”). But however “personally revealing” their response may or may not be, if we want to “know them more intimately,” asking “What do you do for fun?” (your hobby/ies, your Pastime/s?) is probably the better question to ask.
My dad, for example, worked fairly closely with the same man for more than thirty years. However, they shared next to nothing “personally”–ever–politics, sports, religion, family life, you name it. In a more automated culture, they might as well have been two machines doing a similar function. I suspect my dad knew little of what his work-partner did for “fun” (much less what he may have “believed in” or even “cared about”). But if you wanted to know the same of my dad, the last thing to have asked him about was his “work.”
And, of course, the “What do you do?” question often, for good or ill, commonly lends itself to “pigeon-holing”–if not “stereotyping,” perhaps even certain forms of “prejudice.” Not that the same can’t also be said regarding anyone’s Pastimes.
5/6. In Berne’s scheme, the last two “time structures” are Games and Intimacy. As in his best-selling (but hard to read) 1964 book, Games People Play (Grove Press, 1964), where he defines a “psychological game” as “pseudo-intimacy.” It’s in the direction of Intimacy and closer to it than any of the preceding “time structures”; indeed, it reflects the desire for such. Except that Games, according to Eric Berne, sabotage Intimacy. Because Games are “played” at an unconscious “psychological level,” despite the simultaneous “appearance of things” otherwise at the “social level.”
My point, here–in referencing Eric Berne’s theory of “time structure”–is that it’s easier to “pigeon-hole” anyone the less “intimately” we know them. With “work” (Activities) often being the least “personal” way of relating.