Labeling: Good for moving boxes, bad for communication.
By Casey Bowden Galen Emanuele

Labeling: Good for moving boxes, bad for communication.

Just a little bit of a communication hack this month. This is a tool for yourself that keeps communication at the conversation level and prevents it from escalating into an argument, and that is resisting the urge to label.

Something that we do in personal relationships, places where we feel really comfortable with people, is labeling other people’s behavior.

For example, it can be things like labeling somebody as a certain type of person. “You’re overly emotional,” “You’re a cry baby,” “You never listen to me,” or “Nothing I ever do is good enough for you.”

Labeling is unnecessary, unproductive and basically lighter fluid to turn conversations into arguments.

When we label, we aren’t telling the person about one specific event and how it impacted us. We’re creating a generalization about the type of person that they are like, forever. Understandably, it’s a lot more triggering and puts people immediately on the defensive. Even if the thing someone said was rude, it will immediately get their hackles up if I turn around and say, “You’re rude” or “You’re inconsiderate.”

If that person disagrees that it was rude, a lot of times the argument is whether or not that was a rude thing to say as opposed to, “That thing that you said caused me to feel hurt or caused me to feel disrespected.”

Far more important is to say that very specific thing had this impact on me, and it didn’t feel great. Keep the conversation right there.

In general, avoid labeling someone’s behavior. It’s a lot more productive to instead isolate this specific thing that happened, and the impact that it had on you or the situation.

Keep that in mind when you notice that you’re labeling someone as a certain type of person. A lot of the time, that is a recipe for heightened emotions and escalating a conversation to conflict very quickly.

Galen Emanuele is a speaker and trainer on business leadership and team culture based out of Portland, Ore. Every week, Emanuele produces a video and blog post highlighting vital conversations, building skill sets and showing teams how to drive exceptional culture and leadership. To see more, visit

Casey BowdenCasey Bowden

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