Labels let us know where the pens, paper or staples are in the supply room. Labels save time. Labels mean we don’t need to look in the bin, box or the jar. Labels allow us to quickly scan and reject until we find the right label. The label tells us everything we need to know.
That’s a great concept if the goal is to take a messy, unorganized desk or closet and turn it into a Martha Stewart approved oasis of calm organization.
Labels don’t work so well with people.
Slapping labels on customer or co-workers, based on external appearance or behaviours, does help us categorize them and our response to them. Unfortunately, the problem with labelling people is we so very often get them wrong.
When we label the loud, angry man as aggressive and obnoxious, we don’t acknowledge the possibility that he may have just had a horrible, terrible day and that he’s reached the end of his rope. We resort to managing the label instead of seeing the person.
When we label young people as impatient and ‘wet behind the ears’, we don’t acknowledge their desire to help make positive change a reality.
When we label old people as stubborn and set in their ways, we lose the opportunity to learn from their experience.
When accountants become ‘number crunchers’ and sales professionals become ‘paid to golf’, the ability to connect and work together becomes exceedingly difficult.
When we label someone as strong and independent, we may assume they don’t need the same level of support as others. We may miss the signs that show they are struggling and need some help.
Labeling employee as lazy or unmotivated takes away our responsibility to create a positive work environment, built on respect and recognition for their contribution.
Labeling managers or owners as demanding and uncaring takes away our responsibility to bring our A-game to work.
The one benefit to an unlabeled, unorganized closet is the sense of joy and satisfaction when a previously unknown or lost item is found. I believe the same possibility holds true when we rip our labels off the people we interact with every day.
Ripping off the labels will make our life a little more chaotic and a little messier. It means the easy answer or the neat solution may no longer work. But I imagine that amongst the chaos, we may discover a treasure trove of undiscovered knowledge, possibilities and opportunities.
What do you think?