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Rid yourself of the labeling habit

Diverse group of young women

It’s so easy to be mentally lazy and stereotype and label people we don’t know well. We listen to what other people tell us and default to stereotypes.

This takes the work out of having to interact in meaningful ways or experiencing discomfort with people who are different. We don’t have to make decisions for ourselves or take the time to understand other people.

But biases and assumptions lead to stereotyping and excluding people from fully contributing to an organization. Labeling also stops us from having new experiences, learning and growing.

Think about a time when you were labeled. How easy was it to change that label? Not very.

Let go of the label

If a co-worker tells you a new employee is arrogant or a know-it-all, there is a tendency to assume that’s the truth, and you may find yourself looking for signs that the person fits the label. Once we label others, we look for ways to confirm that label and the bias we have.

Think of someone you labeled based on another person’s comment. How did you treat that person because of that label? What did you miss about that person? What opportunity did you lose? You may never know.

When you find yourself labeling someone, become curious and talk to him or her. Don’t pre-judge them based on the word of someone else. We tend to give more weight to the opinions and judgments of people who are most like us or who we know and like. Unless we become aware of this, we default to old ways of thinking. It’s time to stop.

Take the time to get to know the whole person before you label him or her based on gender, looks, accent, size, skin color, etc.

Examine the situation from a different vantage point

Everyone sees the world based on his or her own cultural values and personal experiences. When you interact with people who have different cultural values and experiences, you must try to imagine what the world looks like through that person’s eyes.

Think of two possible interpretations of a situation or issue besides your own. You’ll be able to better resolve conflicts, find common ground and work effectively together when you are open to other points of view, even if you don’t agree with them.

Put yourself in someone else’s head to understand why he or she came to a certain conclusion. Listen to the person’s words and imagine yourself living those experiences.

This will help you understand why another person feels and acts a certain way. Understanding a person does not mean you agree on all issues, but you will work better with that individual. Seeing the world, workplace and other people from someone else’s perspective may change yours, change theirs or help you determine the best way to get the results you want.

Don’t just empathize with people’s feelings; try to understand why. Without understanding why a coworker might be feeling a certain way, it’s easy to tell her that she shouldn’t feel that way or to discount her feelings, which can result in the other person feeling excluded and not contributing her best work.

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Simma Lieberman is a diversity and inclusion and culture change consultant, speaker and coach and a frequent contributor to the Network of Executive Women.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.