The Importance of Labels

Scott Hunter

You wear labels everyday, in every interaction. These are how you are perceived by individuals and groups. Labels are contextual, the same label can increase your ability to influence in one situation and reduce your ability to influence in others.

In this blog I will explore how understanding your labels and their perception can provide you with insights to increase your influence.

What are labels?

Labels are how you, and others identify you, this blog concentrates on the labels others use to identify you.

Labelling is part of human nature, and we start to label and categorise from an early age. Categorising and creating expectations from this is part of our survival mechanism.

The labelling we use can be obvious physical attributes such as

  • Age - this does change, but you can't change that
  • Race
  • Skin colour
  • Height
  • Gender

We can also label others from their actions and perceived personality. Some examples of these labels could be

  • Aggressive
  • Lazy
  • Unskilled
  • Friendly
  • Collaborative
  • Education
  • Driven

One of the risks about labels, is that one action can create a label, and then that label and related expectations are the lens we view the whole person through.

As an example, if you were waiting in a queue and someone jumps to the front. You may label that person as 'Ignorant or Rude.' If you then saw that person again your interaction may be influenced by how you had previously labelled them as 'Ignorant or Rude'

Labels are contextual

The labels you have impact your influence based on the perceived value attached to the label by an individual or group.

In some organisations being driven has value, wheras in another organisation collaborative may hold more value.

Some leaders value free thinking, others value wisdom and experience (Age)

Therefore, the labels you have will impact your ability to influence, based on the perceived value of that label by an individual or group. 

It therefore stands to reason that if you can identify the labels that the individual or organisation you are trying to influence values increases your ability to influence them.

How can I use this?

Example, if you want to get a promotion in your organisation, there is not much value in taking on everything to try and impress your boss.
It will be better to identify what labels your boss values. If they value drive, then you need to find ways that you can effectively demonstrate your drive.
This may be through being involved in projects, then taking more of a leading role in setting objectives and having regular meetings to assess progress. You could help develop solutions that keep the project on track, overcoming obstacles. 
You can lead with these examples to add weight to your request for promotion - you are demonstrating and highlighting the same values as your boss
If you are looking to win a contract with an external company, and you know from experience that they value transparency, you can ensure that you are open and transparent with them in your interactions. If you become aware of a potential delay, highlight it to them as soon as possible. Again this is you consistently demonstrating the label that they value. This increases your chances of influencing them and winning the contract.

What if I don't have the right labels?

There may be cases when you just don't have the labels the individuals or group value. The first thing to do in this situation is to understand what expectations are attached to this label. Eg, the organisation may be looking for an external consultant, and the label they value a lot is age.

The expectation from this label could be wisdom, experience and competency. With this knowledge you can assess yourself against these expectations. If you feel you have the required knowledge, experience and competency, then you need to find ways to demonstrate this.

It could be that you look at influencing the impression of you prior to a first meeting - this could be by providing information to them that demonstrates your knowledge, experience and competency.

You are now demonstrating the expectations they have for the label - thus building their trust and confidence in you; then when you finally meet them, they may be surprised with your age. You can then use this to your advantage, perhaps making a joke about it - thus creating emotional connection.

By taking this approach you are demonstrating the expectation they have with the label. And once that has been established they then see your age; you are now in a much stronger position to influence.


Labels are an important survival trait that everyone uses to characterise and build expectations. These labels and expectations are not universal and are impacted by a variety of things, such as past experiences, values, social norms, and beliefs.

Being aware of the different values that individuals and groups have for different labels, provides you with a clear insight. This enables you to then explore ways of consistently demonstrating these labels and expectations.

The consistency of these demonstrations and highlighting the key labels and expectations builds trust. You are demonstrating that you have what is important for the person or group to make a decision with confidence.