Labels In The Workplace: Don’t Make These Mistakes

Source : Forbes

A friend recently tagged me in a post on LinkedIn to gain my HR insight after a LinkedIn connection of hers had shared a recent recruiting experience.

A recruiter had recently reached out to him to see if he was interested in a position. Typical stuff, right? After going through interviews and completing assessments, the recruiter gave him some unfortunate news. In short, he’s highly skilled and an excellent candidate, but based on his DiSC profile (another personality assessment) results, they fear he won’t be empathetic because he’s a “D,” which stands for “dominant” and that translates as direct, decisive and determined.

This job hunter was forced to promptly discontinue his job search with this company.

This LinkedIn post — or rather, the hiring manager’s logic — rocked my little HR soul.

Here’s why.

Personality Assessments Are Fancy Labels

The problem with labels is that they’re simply shells that contain assumptions. The workplace is laced with labels.

Think about all the different labels we receive at work: DiSC and Myers-Briggs profiles, position title, and words and phrases like: leader, high performing, bad employee, smart, weird, idealist, liberal, difficult to work with, loud, abrasive, kind, married, single, LGBT, etc.

Those are just a few labels I’ve heard leaders use when discussing an employee. These are also labels that we carry with us. The problem with these labels is that they both help and hurt us. Here are a few ways labels may be helping and hindering progress with your performers or potential performers.

How Labels Help

Self-identification: Identification labels help to identify who we are and what we stand for. I can recall reading the results of my own personality assessments and exclaiming, “This is soooo me!” Of course, the test results explain who I am so much more eloquently than I could. This is a natural journey of self-discovery and awareness. Embrace it, enjoy it and learn from it.

Connections: After uncovering more of who you are, the ability to attract others like you is much easier. Stop and think for a moment: How many people in your inner circle are the exact opposite of you? Think about the team you lead. Think about your work friends. This is all good because we are made to connect, and personality tests and other identifiers (like political associations, academic affiliations and social causes) help us link to people who “get” us.

Communities: Once we have a connection, we can create communities. Community is about a feeling of fellowship and the sharing of common interests. Identification is the invitation to connect with others who are like you. It’s a glorious feeling of they get me.

How Labels Hurt 

Rejection: There’s a funny phenomenon that occurs as like minds connect. They also tend to reject differing minds. Once we identify with who we are, we seek and attract more of who we are. This forces us to unconsciously resist the thoughts, ideas, perspectives and beliefs of others. When rejection happens at work, productivity diminishes. When you’re going round-and-round in a meeting about the same topic, stop. Think to yourself, What am I rejecting here?

Limitations: The truth about people is that we’re complex, multifaceted and multidimensional, so labels tend to limit the vast greatness that lies inside us all. Like the hiring manager who thought the candidate wouldn’t work because of his DiSC profile results. Does this mean he can’t be empathic, too? Absolutely not. But labels are inherently built with blinders. Make it a good practice to check your blinders. Don’t limit potential based on an unsubstantiated label.

Assumptions: I know it’s easy and requires little to no effort to make an assumption, we do it all the time. This can come back to bite us because assumptions are full of invalid opinions. Labels lead us to make assumptions because labels eventually turn into stereotypes. Avoid assumptions. My biggest pet peeve about labels and assumptions is that it assumes an individual can’t change, learn and grow.

In the end, I hope we — leaders, individuals, and collective teams — all learn from the mistake of this hiring manager. The lesson is to use the individual’s identity to make a connection. From the connection, don’t assume but ask questions. Inquire and ask a question about that gut feeling that’s making you hesitate to move further with a candidate, partner or idea. Labels are absolutely helpful for bridging gaps and making connections. Labels are also harmful when we fail to seek to understand.

How have labels affected you at work? Will you look at labels differently?


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