When my husband and I were building our current house in 2001, we felt quite blessed to have a wonderfully experienced older man. He likes things just a certain way, his way.
There are four rooms to tile. Three of the four have a name for the tile pattern in which they are laid. But the fourth room, a shared bathroom, does not.
When I get the telephone call from Mr. T, it was confusing at first.
Sounding frustrated he said, “Ms. Weber we have a problem.”
“Really. What is it Mr. T?” I asked.
I was puzzled because even though it didn’t have a name, it had a pattern, a pattern that could be laid out if you were looking at the pattern board. So I asked, “Did the sales rep show you the pattern layout board?”
“Of course,” he said, making me feel a little like I should have known he would have seen that. “But it needs a name before I can lay it out.”
Even more perplexed, but taking a hint from the tone of his question, I remarked, “Oh of course it has a name. I’m sure it does. Let me call the sales rep and call you back. Is that ok?”
So we each hung up. I immediately dialed the tile shop and asked for my sales representative.
She explained to me that Mr. T was like that and we could easily give it a name. So I named it Venetian because it is tile from Italy and having been to Italy several times, that name just came to the top of my mind.
Then I don’t know why, except that I wanted everything to be perfectly understood with Mr. T. I asked the sales rep if she would call Mr. T, apologize for the tile name confusion, and give him the name of the tile pattern. She agreed.
Within just about 2 hours, I heard from Mr. T with a sigh of relief in his voice.
“Ms. Weber, we have the tile pattern name. I can finish up that room next Wednesday.”
The lesson: Labels help us complete various puzzles in life. Labels serve a purpose to make something more definitive.
But a label is just a tool as it is for Mr. T to be able to complete this work. Venetian could have been the label for any pattern of tile. It just happened that it was now tied to this pattern.
We use labels all the time – male or female, rich or poor, republican or democrat, introvert or extrovert.
In one sense it can give us some context because, it gives both of us a general concept of what we are talking about. In another sense, which isn’t so helpful, it can give us a potential misinterpretation if we don’t have the right information.
Unless you are an introvert, and actually even if you are, it’s quite likely the label may have some truth and some misunderstanding in it. If you take a label on face value of a stereotype, in this case, introvert, then you might think some concepts that are incorrect and hold back on fully engaging with the person you just met.
Are you aware of how you use labels?
Do you let them stall you in engaging with others?