Blinded by Labels

In the past week I have been in meetings where a) the differences between the “generations” at work, b) Myers-Briggs tests, and c) PDP tests, have all been cited as the basis for decision making. In my opinion, they might as well have just added zodiac signs.

Over the years I have found these “tools” to be, at best, slightly amusing parlor tricks and, at worst, weapons used to psychologically maim people.

An example – one person retorted when I expressed my views on this hokum – “My profile says I need clear direction when given an assignment. I need to know why. When my boss gives me a “why,” I always do better on the assignment.” Really? Is there anyone who prefers to kept in the dark and doesn’t benefit from understanding why?

Do you see my point? This stuff is most universal assertions packaged in professional gobbledygook (thanks Michelle Golden for reintroducing me to that word). They are the business equivalent of, “I am a Scorpio, as a desert sign, I like long walks on the beach.”

The problem here is that these labels (Gen X, Gen Y, ENTJ, ISFP, High D, Low C, Aries, Scorpio) blind people to the truth. The best example I can give you is politics.

Last night I post this story and graph with the following comment – “Attention Republican/Conservatives, your party is not in favor of smaller government.”

My friend, John, replied, “Why would a well-paid, well-pensioned, government employee favor smaller government? And even if it’s their ‘platform’, why would anyone actually believe them?” Great point!

My reply, “For the same reasons that Democrats/Liberals believe that their president was going to end the wars – They are blinded by labels.”

Labeling people does not promote good decision making, it promotes blindness to the truth.

5 thoughts on “Blinded by Labels

  1. People “following” their labels pigeonhole themselves into a position of willful ignorance; they feel they can pass off certain aspects of their life because they are X label. I personally do not believe in set labels for anyone. A person may exhibit characteristics of a certain classification, even the majority of the time, but the person who fits their labels 100% of the time is a rare bird indeed.

    In your example above, I call BS on the person saying they need their boss to tell them why to make them do better. While it would understandably help with buy-in and comprehension, so they may do better, it sounds to me like an excuse to act poorly. “Well, I did not understand why my boss assigned that to me, so I don’t really care about doing it properly.” If it’s not handed to you – go find it!

  2. Flip the usage over, and I think they make more sense. Myers-Briggs, Gen X, etc. really do describe the person’s predilections. There definitely ARE personality types.

    BUT if they are used to reinforce the idea that, “this is the way I /you am/are, then they are counterproductive. You are all correct about that.

    From a manager’s view, you can take the attitude of, “I’m in charge, so you must operate the way I want to operate” or you can use the knowledge of your personality make up and that of your worker’s to create a better communication stream. A simple example is if you have somebody who works great under pressure, then you communicate that pressure (and more) to him to get him going best. But if you have somebody who does great work as long as pressure is low, then you definitely create that environment to get most performance.

    You can also use knowledge of the worker’s personality type to counsel them on how to make up for characteristics that misfit in relevant situations.

    And I definitely use knowledge of my personality type to manage the responses of others to my actions.

    Used as a crutch, labels are a bad thing. But used as one tool for reaching another, they can be helpful to both, and to the job at hand.

    And, Ed, there really are some people who don’t need to know why they are doing some things. There are also some who, if they know the “why” add 2+2 and come up with 5, changing what you told them to do because they do not really comprehend what the “why” is. These types are a minority, but I’ve definitely run afoul of them.

  3. Thanks, Jerry.

    My major point is that most of the time these labels are NOT used in the proper context, and as a result are more destructive than constructive.

    PS – I do not grant that there are personality types. I have taken MB on several occasions and the results change. If this were actually scientific the results would be the same.

  4. Ed,

    I have an issue with MB – it is incomprehensible that people can be put in to one of 16 alternative boxes. We’re far more complex (and simple) than that!

    In some respects, I agree with Jerry in that the knowledge can be helpful but it is not a viable alternative for a good, honest, open discussion between “consenting” adults.

    Use them but don’t rely solely on them. You also need to understand what you’re wanting to achieve by using them.

  5. Thanks Matthew. I am more convinced then ever that these are on balance more counter productive. Perhaps a few people can use them correctly and effectively, but I believe that is a rare exception.

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