I meet someone for the first time: “What do you do?” they ask. “I’m an accountant” I answer. They immediately start looking over my shoulder to find someone more interesting to talk to…

They’ve used a label – all accountants are boring. Don’t know how they came to that conclusion…

We all use them, and not always appropriately. The main issue is that we only use one. It’s our way of quickly processing information, so that we can move on to the next bit of our busy lives. But what do we lose, and what might that cost us?

We use a piece of English called a complex equivalence. It interposes, consciously or  – usually -unconsciously, the phrase “which means that”. Hence “he’s an accountant, which means that he’s boring” as that is the experience of accountants before.

I’m corresponding with Isabella at the moment about a potential blog. Isabella is a woman…which means that…she’s not a man! And that’s all it means. She also lives in Vienna, is a CIO, teaches Masters students, has a consultancy company and umpteen other things I don’t know.

Which is the whole point. I don’t know. So why should I assume? And why should you?

When someone phones you to ask for a price, walks into your shop, who are you dealing with? A customer, or a person? Are you labelling them without finding out enough to treat them like they would like to be treated – like an individual? Like you want to be treated. Do you suffer from being labelled? When you go on holiday, you are a tourist..and all the other things as well that make up you. The whole you goes on holiday, not just the bit that is tourist.

How do you get treated? Just as a tourist usually, I suspect.  And when there is a problem, you are not treated like you know anything at all apart from being a tourist. So, you have an issue in a shop. No one knows or considers that you might have bought stuff before, or even have a shop back home. They treat you like you know nothing. Which makes you feel like you don’t count, and they don’t care.

Many people are now using different labels in their social media to describe themselves, rather than their functional job. So instead of accountant, I could say father, friend, partner, management thinker, strategist, walker, learner, teacher, enabler, blogger, helper…etc.

You might use something like this to describe yourself. So why limit yourself to describe others with just one label without better knowledge of them? And how many customers might you lose if you do that? Think about how you treat people – like customers, or with some more labels, or maybe just assume you should treat them like you might want to be treated. How fast can it be to lose a customer if you don’t stop to think? And how much time do you need to spend in stopping to think? Not many seconds – you can do it!

Now how about thinking about your recruitment and retention policy for your colleagues as well? Should you advertise jobs based on functional specifications alone? Most job titles are purely functional with a list of functional skills and some soft ones (good communicator, good interpersonal skills etc.) but they don’t describe the person you want to interact with the people who are your customers, suppliers and colleagues. It’s too limiting.  Maybe start listing what type of person you want, rather than assuming that industry knowledge is essential. It seldom is, unless you just need a technical specialist. Anyway, hiring for competencies doesn’t work anymore, as jobs change so fast (Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, at the Drucker Forum 2015)

As Henry Mintzberg said (also at the Drucker Forum), I don’t want to be a human resource, or human capital, I’m a human being. Don’t we all want that? Which means many more labels, used with care.