How to avoid stereotyping and labelling in the workplace

wordtest1We are all pretty clued-up about the dangers of certain types of stereotyping. We know not to make assumptions about or discriminate against people because of their gender, race, age or cultural identity.

At the same time, we are fascinated by our psychological profiles. We find out if we are a driven Type A or a laid-back Type B. We discover our Myers-Biggs type, and love identifying how our colleagues fit in — ooh, I always knew he was an ENTJ (look it up), no wonder we don’t get on…

We take tests and questionnaires to determine our personality types and to find out if we are optimists or pessimists, thinkers or doers. We discover what kind of leader we are, and what 1950s’ film or 1960s’ song or 1980s’ icon or cute animal most closely identifies our character (come on, you do those quizzes, don’t you? Especially when you should be working?).

Of course, it is helpful to understand people, what makes us tick and how we are likely to relate to others.

Developing self-knowledge is essential to growth and maturity. But using this awareness to apply labels to ourselves and to others can hinder further growth and understanding.

Once you identify yourself and are identified as an introvert or extrovert or people-person or task-orientated geek, it is possible that you box yourself in and limit opportunities.

Rather than presenting or accepting the label, apply it to a context:

Instead of

‘I’m an introvert’


‘I work best when I can recharge my batteries during the day’

Instead of

‘I don’t like large groups of people’


‘I enjoy making strong one-to-one alliances’

Instead of

‘I’m good with people’


‘I’m happy to talk to Rhonda about the new arrangements’

Instead of

‘I’m better with tasks than with people’


‘I enjoy working on complex projects’

If someone categorises you with an unwelcome label, you can adjust their perception.

If someone says

‘Not having a family, you wouldn’t understand’


‘No, I really do appreciate the difficulties of conflicting demands’

If someone says

‘That’s a typical career-woman attitude’

‘My career is important to me, but I think everyone’s approach is different’

Business psychology is an important science from which we learn a lot. When we extract from its findings information about our personality types, we want to believe that the information is accurate.

We blank out any inconsistencies, and don’t see that some of the attributes we recognise as belonging to us exclusively could describe most people we know, to some extent, or at some time or other.

Labels and categories are useful guides, when applied with caution. We don’t allow ourselves to be pinned down by popular ideas and pithy phrases:

  • ‘I’m Kathy, the office clown!’
  • ‘Tim should be project manager. He’s a Leo, they’re all strong leaders.’
  • ‘I’m a high-performing team player who can be opinionated and manipulative.’

It might be fun, though.

How to Listen by Mary HartleyMy book, How To Listen, provides techniques for you to improve your listening skills and build richer, stronger relationships.

The topics covered include:

• Understanding points of view – your own and other people’s
• Communication techniques and rules
• The difference between hearing and listening
• Establishing rapport and setting boundaries
• Body language
• How to respond with and without words
• Taking risks and expressing feelings.

How To Listen by Mary Hartley is available worldwide at your local Amazon store