The word introvert is a label, there are many views on labels. If I call somebody an introvert, do they behave differently or do I view them differently? If “different” is positive, it could be useful to label somebody but is there also a danger.
The upside of labeling an introvert.
Many people I’ve worked with thought they were the only ones who felt they way the do. They were the only ones who got exhausted by social contact and needed to control it more, felt they were the only ones de-energised by their bosses request for instant answers, when they wanted to think things through.
Helping them came in three stages:
- Realisation: Realising that they were not the only ones, in fact about a third of people feel similar. The relief and feeling better about themselves was instant and might not be as easy without labeling them an introvert.
- Acceptance: Accepting the generic label allowed them to review a number of tactics that have worked for others (e.g. letting others know, link kiln).
- Helping others: Now realising some of the introvert superpowers, they were able to help colleagues and managers to help them. Link
Accepting people can change
Taking a label as a definitive statement, can be a limiting factor. “I am an introvert” could mean I believe I have all the traits of introversion and can do nothing about them. In that sense a label can certainly be a negative.
In the 1930’s Benjamin Whorf proposed the ‘linguistic relativity’ hypothesis. In this hypothesis the words we use to describe what we see are not just placeholders; they determine what we see. In other words language influences thought.
So, if I believe somebody in a hoodie represents danger, I avoid or act differently around hoodies. My reaction to them could be causing their unpleasant reaction to me, this “proving” I’m right to act like that.
Introvert – a negative label?
The word introvert is precise and positive, to me. Yet others view it as a label they don’t want to identify with, as they perceive it negatively. This is often because it’s poorly understood; introversion is about how we gain (or lose) energy , it’s not about being shy and quiet. In a LinkedIn discussion a number of people proposed more positive sounding labels, such as “contemplator”, “contemplative”, “thinker”, “observer”, “reflective” (thanks to the contributors of the words).
“People are too complicated to have simple labels.” Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass
What’s the value of a label?
Are labels great shortcuts and time saving devices, or restrictive negative things? We need to choose what we do with the label. Using a label as a crutch (“I can’t go to that meeting, because I’m an introvert”) is restrictive, but using it to quickly identify positive actions can be very helpful
This weekend I purchased a number of ingredients, identifying them more quickly because of their labels. I turned them into a delicious cake.
Does the label tell us what something is, or what we can do with it? How will you choose to use labels?