The Power of Labeling

Label: to put in a certain class; classify.

How often to we label? And why?

“This is poison.”
“That is spoiled.”
“She is German.”

poison

Labels give information. They help us understand.

However, labels also cause us to stop looking. To be non-curious. In business, in communication, in life, it is helpful to be curious. For example, when we say, “He is a procrastinator,” we stop being curious about whether sometimes he does not “procrastinate.”  Just like once we hear, “She is German,” we stop looking for evidence that she is French.

If you yourself are working on changing something, labeling is not useful. My clients will say to me, “I am lazy” or “I am disorganized.” The way our brains work, though, is to stop looking for behaviors that are different from how we have labeled ourselves. So if you say that you are a procrastinator, you have declared it to the world and to yourself. You will look for evidence of procrastination. You will filter out evidence that maybe sometimes you don’t wait to the last minute. You will miss the times that you are on top of it.

The same is true if you say an employee or child is “lazy.” You close yourself to the possibility that sometimes he is not.

What might be the antidote to this practice? I would suggest that you label carefully. “That is poison” is a useful label. “I am a procrastinator” is not. Instead, try describing the behavior you see:

“I was late on this project.”
“This progress took ____ hours. I thought it would be quicker.”
“I put a different project in front of this in priority three different times.”

This way not only can you look for evidence both in favor of and against the label, but you can also start to get to the bottom of the problem – which is the behavior. What behavior works and what behavior does not work? And it gives you the space for change. Maybe you’re not a “procrastinator.” Maybe you just had trouble putting a certain project in front of another project in priority. Now you can start looking at why that is – really – and it can be a real reason and not just because you are a “procrastinator.”

The same goes for employees and children. Do this in order to see what you may not be seeing and to help them to change.

label

About the Author

Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

Get Our Newsletter
Recent Posts
Be committed, but not attached

Be committed, but not attached

A long time ago, I heard this quote that really messed with my brain. Though I cannot find the source of this exact quote, there are many similar Buddhist tenets. It has really helped me get what I want in my life, though! “Be committed,...

Read More
Tracie Hewitt

Coach Highlight – Tracie Hewitt

CM: Why did you enter TCE? And/or, what did you want to get out of it? TH: I took the training because as a licensed educational psychologist (LEP), I found myself “coaching” parents around issues with their children, including learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, depression and...

Read More

Coach Highlight – Megan Moore

CM: Why did you enter TCE? And/or, what did you want to get out of it? MM: I enrolled in TCE to deepen my communication and leadership skills. At the time, I was one year into running my solo law practice and in my eleventh...

Read More
Managers and Their Moods: What You Might Not Know

Managers and Their Moods: What You Might Not Know

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather….In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or...

Read More

Share this Post

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email