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Why We Label People

We use labels all the time to simplify life. We say that this person is this, and that person is that. For example, we might label someone as a winner or they are a loser.

There are a couple of problems and there are a couple of advantage to using labels, so let’s start by talking about the advantages.

The reason we use labels is because there’s so much information in the world that we can’t process every piece of it individually. So we group things together and we put labels on them. We have to do this to keep from being overwhelmed and maintain our sanity.

The downside to using labels is that people and things can get put into the wrong group.

Let’s continue with the example of labelling someone as a loser.

What if we don’t really know much about this person and in our interaction with them things didn’t turn out right? This doesn’t make them a loser – it only means that things didn’t turn out right in this particular interaction.

Unfortunately, our natural tendency is to quickly label them so that we don’t have to expend any additional attention trying to understand them in more detail (because there are so many other things demanding our attention).

When we label a person, it allows us to simplify the way we represent them in our brains. Yes… it’s useful but it’s also dangerous.

Here is a very specific example of how to use and not use labeling. This comes from a workshop I conducted a few years ago; in the discussion, one of the managers told me about a particular employee and said, “He is just lazy.”

He’s just lazy…

I get it… that’s the way he represents that employee in his brain – and lazy is the word (label) he uses to describe that person. My response was quick because I recognized exactly what was happening. I asked the manager this question: “Is he lazy or is he just unmotivated?”

That’s an important question because the label the manager uses to define whether this employee is lazy or unmotivated determines the way the manager will manage them.

If he is lazy, what do you do?

You give up, don’t you? There’s no help for this employee because he is just lazy, so there’s nothing you as a manager can do.

But… if you decide to label him as unmotivated, that puts the responsibility back onto that manager because now that manager, as a manager, has to help this employee to become motivated.

Here’s the lesson:  be careful with the labels you put on people because they control a large part of how we interact and communicate with that person. The label controls the things you will do, the things you will say, and how you will interpret the things they do and say.

How You Label Yourself

Be especially careful about the labels you put on yourself because they will control how you interpret events. More on this in a future post!

Take a few minutes and think about the labels you use for yourself and those around you. When you do that, you are going get some great results.

Let me know in the comments, an email or any way you want to let me know how this works out for you. I look forward to hearing from you.