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.


  1. Thanks for your input Brenda.

    The problem is that most people do not think about it the way you do. They leave thinking that they have been labeled and that everyone in the room now has a label.

    In short, they do more harm than good.

  2. Matthew, you are going to have to go a long way to convince me about this stuff.

    I would much rather deal with each person as an individual than use some “tool” to position them in a category.

  3. Hi Ed, I am commenting on this not so much to try to convince you, but instead to counter your argument so that your readers are better informed. First let me say that I agree there is no place for labeling or making assumptions about others with a certain “TYPE.” There is, however, an extremely valuable aspect to understanding psychological preference that I think you are missing.

    Consider this – each of us desires to be known and understood. We like it when people are interested or curious about us, people who want to know what makes us tick and how to be appropriate with us, how to meet our needs or motivate or inspire us.

    Emotionally intelligent people are aware of their actions or behaviors that harm their relationships. They are also aware that this is different for each person they interact with and dependent on circumstance and context. By recognizing psychological preference (sometimes referred to as “personality type” yuck) we are able to recognize general needs of others that help us to approach and work with them in an appropriate way that makes them feel comfortable. This is far more complicated than it sounds because it requires that we take into account
    a) Our own style and way of showing up
    b) The other person or people’s styles and what they may like or dislike
    c) The specific circumstance in which the interaction takes place
    d) The willingness and readiness to adapt my behaviors if my initial approach is proven to be incorrect (for example, you find out that someone who you thought was a very serious introverted thinker shows up as very funny or goofy)

    Here are some specific examples of harming relationships by being unaware of my own style in comparison with someone else’s preferences:
    I may hug or touch someone who doesn’t like being touched.
    Be too direct, opinionated or outspoken with someone who perceives this as aggression or overly dominant
    Be too quiet or timid with someone who perceives this as lacking confidence or perhaps even incompetence.
    Talk too much with someone who perceives me as not thinking before I speak.
    Not show expression when others are looking for feedback (like showing excitement or engagement or happiness)

    Each of these interactions have negative consequences that may or may not be revealed – most likely they are hidden away in thoughts and perceptions that come out later in various ways (for example, lack of cooperation or engagement, avoidance or other emotionally degenerate behaviors).

    Ok, I spoke my mind. Sorry for the long comment. I look forward to continuing the discussion next week.

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