What Happens When You Label People?

What Happens When You Label People?

We need labels. They provide us with crucial information, vital to our survival.  The problem is, we humans are so fond of labels, we apply them to everything. What happens when you label a person is not as organized and handy as the label on a can of soup.

Labels tell us which can of soup to buy, and what percentage of our daily nutritional needs will be filled by ingesting its contents.

Labels guide us in our search for items in a storage room, books in a store, and contents in a bottle.

On a pack of cigarettes, they predict our future by forewarning us of our fate if we continue to light up.

And labels do one other thing.

They establish expectations. We expect the labels put on things to deliver on those expectations. For the most part, they do.


And so it is with the labels we hang over the necks of our fellow humans.

You know the ones I mean? Jerk. Moron. Lazy. Vain. Silly. Boring.

We label people to help ourselves and others frame our expectations. They rarely disappoint us.

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People typically live up to the expectations the labels place upon them imply. Once someone has internalized their labels, they use them as a guide for how to behave, particularly in front of the person who invented the label.

They show us precisely what to look for, and it’s quite amazing how we find exactly what we are looking for even if we have to spend a long time looking.

So if the label says “stupid” we will validate its accuracy by instantly recognizing the “stupid” in every action.

To the point that the exact same “stupid” behaviour, when delivered by someone else –someone not wearing a “stupid” label– is not stupid at all. In fact it’s quite normal and reasonable.

And the miraculous thing about labels? If we ever change the label, the person wearing it miraculously changes too.


If you don’t believe me try this simple experiment.

Think of a person on whom you have bestowed a less than favourable label.

Recall the label you have graciously given them. Jerk. Moron. Lazy. Vain. Silly. Boring.

Nemove the label.

Pick a new one. Here’s a sample list:









Gently replace the old one with this new one.

The one wearing the label will instantly change in their demeanour and behaviour to match the new label you gave them.

They can’t resist, no matter how hard they try.

It works every time.

Be mindful of the incredible power you now have over everyone you meet. You can mould them into anything you want them to be, by choosing the label you want them to be.

So exercise wisely your power of choice.

Till we read again.

Photo of Rael Kalley,Habits coach in calgary canada

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