Stereotypes are essentially assumptions that are made about a person or group's character or attributes, based on a general image of what a particular group of people is like. Just as people assume that all cars have four wheels, while all bicycles have two, they also assume that all men have certain attributes that differ from women. In reality, a few vehicles that might be called "cars" have three wheels-as do some bicycles. So, these stereotypes about cars and bicycles are not always accurate. Stereotypes about men and women are even less likely to be accurate, as people's characteristics vary much more so than do vehicles. Some men have physical or psychological characteristics that are more characteristic of women, while some women may resemble men in certain ways.

So stereotypes are generalizations that are often oversimplified and wrong. Stereotypes are especially likely to be wrong in conflict situations. When people are engaged in a conflict, their image of their opponent tends to become more and more hostile. As communication gets cut off, people make generalizations and assumptions about opponents based on very sketchy and often erroneous information. They see faults in themselves and "project" those faults onto their opponent, preferring to believe that they are good and their opponents are bad. Eventually, opponents develop a strong "enemy image," that assumes that everything the other side does is evil or wrong, while everything they do themselves is good.

Such negative stereotypes make any sort of conflict resolution or conflict management process more difficult. A first step toward overcoming these problems is becoming aware of the tendency to hold negative stereotypes of opponents, and then making a conscious efforts to correct the inaccuracies. Often this is done by increasing person-to-person contacts between people from different groups. Usually, when people meet each other talk together, and / or work together, they will soon learn that the opponents are not nearly as awful as they had earlier believed.

(Of course, sometimes opponents will confirm the negative images, which makes overcoming them even harder. ) Small group workshops-dialogues, analytical problem solving workshops, mediation sessions, joint projects, and training programs are all ways in which stereotypes can begin to be broken down and more accurate images of the opponents developed.