OK, a bit harsh, but this is what I mean.
Some people are very good at this. ‘We have a big communication problem in the company’, ‘in this company, our employees are not engaged’, ‘our processes and systems are dysfunctional’, ‘we have a chronic problem of failure of leadership’, ‘we are completely silo-organized with zero connections between each other’ and ‘our culture is one of fear’, all these are potential candidates for sweeping generalizations. I have encountered all of them within a few clients.
All these clients have multi-thousand people on the payroll, so you would have thought that if the generalizations were actually true, these companies would be at the point of receiving a death certificate. But they all are well and thriving. What is it then that prompts people to produce these devastating pieces of assessment?
In all the cases, I know the companies well. One of them could do with improving communication but this is actually a real problem ‘only’ between Marketing and Sales. The ‘employees not engaged’ was expressed by a senior person based upon one single Town Hall meeting where employees did not ask any questions. I was there at the back of the room, and the presentation by the top leadership was actually pretty anaesthetic. Etc.
The problem with sweeping generalizations is that it gives the sweeper a sense of power, worthiness, and a de facto the title of Chief Diagnosis Officer. Problem two is that it is pretty toxic and spreads like oil. Problem three, if repeated and repeated, it creates a truth in itself, a false but pervasive picture of the organization. These chronic experts in sweeping generalizations should be ‘called out’. Ok, reason for dismissal may be a bit harsh, but, frankly, I am sometimes this close to recommending it.
So, what’s Rule #1? Critical thinking is vital, part of your job description
Rule #2? If your are going to generalize, please bring the statistics
Rule #3? The one in the title.
Although in the Critical Thinking arena there is a distinction between sweeping generalization (‘using some statements in an all-inclusive way without allowing for any exceptions’) and the reverse, hasty generalization (‘drawing a general rule from a single, perhaps atypical, case’) both are examples of poor thinking. We all do that from time-to-time. Our mind likes that sense of control. The systematic use, however, is the problem of a faulty mind. And it’s toxic.
Those who systematically make them in any meeting, any forum, all the time, any company cafeteria, should be confronted by any other mortal who may see some of the symptoms but would be horrified to extrapolate.
Why are the generalization sweepers still on the payroll? Because nobody confronts them. Start with an ‘excuse me, this is not how I see it’, and you may start a revolution.
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