Unlabelling People

I recently had the chance to lead a focused team of 7 people, who ultimately managed a larger team of 221 volunteers. This project went on for more than 10 months and I learned a lot from it.

One of the most important lessons for me was how removing labels from people helped solving most of he problems I had managing them.

By nature we tend to personalise problems. As soon as someone tend to have a specific behaviour we attach a label: John shows up in time at almost every meeting, so John is labeled as “punctual”. From that moment on, John, in our head, is punctual.

Mary is stressed, and she is loud sometimes. Once she replied bluntly to a question. We label her as “rude”. From that moment Mary will be rude in our head.

If we let ourselves attach labels to people, over time we’ll use those labels when talking to other people. John will always be punctual and Mary will always be rude.

We will tend to forget (and forgive) those times when John is actually late, and we won’t appreciate Mary’s work-ethics.

It’s way better to remove those labels, and always refer to actions, not personalising issues. John should be reminded about time when he’s late and Mary should be praised for her achievements.

The difficult part will be explaining Mary how her tone can come across as rude to other people, and how to fix it. But this is a good topic for a future post…