Shakespeare wondered if a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Well, one psychological study from the seventies argued that it would not.
Researchers were curious about the effects of labels on candidates during job interviews, so here’s what they did. Half the participants were labeled as applicants, while the other half were labeled as patients.
After watching the videotape, clinicians were asked to complete a questionnaire evaluating the interviewees. And believe it or not, when one of the interviewees was labeled patient, that person was described as significantly more disturbed than he was when labeled as an applicant.
Looks like the bloom was off the rose completely.
All because of a label.
Isn’t it fascinating how the human brain works? It’s wired to take shortcuts, so it loves to label things. We all do this thousands of time a day.
But despite arriving at its cognitive destination faster, labeling does not always provide most accurate map of the world. Labels often oversimplify reality, confusing the part with the whole. And in fact, if we’re too quick to accept labels for someone, that can give a false impression that we actually know them.
Ask anyone who works in healthcare. Labels reduce patients to a single adjective. Which may help the provider, but may also hurt the patient.
Vanderkolk’s seminal book on treating traumatic stress found that a diagnostic label is likely to attach to someone for the rest of their lives and have a profound influence on how they define themselves, and many people refer to that label as if they had been sentenced to remain in an underground dungeon for the rest of their lives.
The question is, can labels ever be useful?
My experience tells me yes. It all depends on who applies it, and what the spirit behind it is. When people ask me about my nametag, a favorite joke of mine is to quip, I come pre labeled.
It gets a laugh, although it’s not completely inaccurate. Wearing the nametag is my proactive, unique way of labeling myself first, before anyone else gets a chance to. That was the whole motivation behind the social experiment.
During college, I was tired and frustrated of all these new people thinking and assuming and labeling me in whatever way they wanted, so I decided to take control over my identity.
Scott is my name, now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk.
Done and done.
It makes me think about the classic trope where the television hosts tells the audience, please welcome a man who needs no introduction.
That’s literally true for me, and it’s served me well over the past twenty years.
The key is, it’s only my first name on the badge. That it keeps my identity small. It’s just enough personal information to disarm people and open the door to conversation, connection, and in some cases, relationships.
Whereas if my nametag read something more conceptual or complicated, it might introduce a certain level of pressure and expectation. In fact, people will recommend experimenting with writing different words on the tag besides my name, like preferences, adjectives or abstract concepts.
But that never really appealed to me, because this isn’t performance art.
Wearing a nametag is far more practical than that. It helps me see and feel seen.
Plus, being the man who needs no introduction is kind of nice. It’s a huge time saver.
How could you label yourself to your advantage?