Make Labels Work for You

Labels have gotten a bad rap in recent years. People don’t want to be labeled because labels can be self-reinforcing, limiting, and hard to shake. For example; if a child is labeled a troublemaker early in school he or she might start living up to that reputation and teachers may start looking for bad behavior. That negative label may limit opportunities because once a reputation is established it can be very hard to change.

So labeling people can be a bad thing, especially when the labels are incorrect. But let’s not toss out the baby with the bathwater. Labels also allow you to quickly identify things, communicate more effectively, and spot influence opportunities you may not have noticed in the past.


Most of language is really labeling for quick identification and ease of communication. Nouns are labels because, according to, a noun is “a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things ( common noun ), or to name a particular one of these ( proper noun ).”

When I write “Paris” you know what city I’m talking about. The same goes for New York and yet both cities, any city for that matter, is so much more than its name.


Having a strong sense of words allows you to communicate efficiently with other people. We say a word and for the most part we know what each other is talking about which facilitates communication.

For example; a sweet, edible fruit that grows on trees that can be red, yellow or green is an apple. Imagine if every time you went to the store you spouse had so say, “Honey, don’t forget to pick up a dozen of those sweet, edible fruit that grow on trees. Get the green ones.” Much easier to say, “Don’t forget to pick up a dozen green apples.”

Make Labels Work for You

What you need to do is make labels work for you. You can do that in a couple of ways: defense and opportunities.

When I teach people about influence I often say, “Once you learn to define certain principles of influence you’ll be amazed as you start to notice how certain principles are used on you. You’ll understand how the marketer is trying to get you to the store, the salesperson is trying to get you to buy, and how the politician is trying to get you to vote.” Open eyes in this regard allows you to defend yourself if need be.

Then I go on to tell the audience, “On the flip side, you’ll start to see opportunities to begin using the principles to ethically move people to action.” The example I frequently use is buying a new car. It’s amazing how often you see your new car on the road shortly after driving it off the car lot. Your eyes are “open” to something that’s actually been there all along.


The word label has become a label of sorts and has come to have a somewhat negative connotation. Don’t let that be the case for you because it might limit what you notice – good and bad – and limit your opportunities.

To Do This Week

Pay close attention to the labels that are tossed around and question them. As I encouraged you last week, have conversations with people who might be labeled differently than you.  Don’t judge, just ask questions to learn about them, their experiences and views. You might be surprised at how you unknowingly fell prey to labels that might be limiting or inaccurate.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet when it comes to the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – has been one of the top 10 selling Amazon books in several insurance categories and cracked the top 50 in sales & selling.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses have been viewed by nearly 85,000 people around the world! His newest course – Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalities – is now available through LinkedIn Learning.


That’s What She Said but Not What He Heard

If you were a fan of The Office you know Michael Scott, the manager of the Dunder Mifflin paper supply office in Scranton, PA, was fond of saying, “That’s what she said.” Michael’s references usually had a sexual overtone but don’t worry, that’s not where I’m going. I’m also not going to talk about miscommunication between men and women although, according to some people we’re from different planets.

I’d like to talk a little about the sender-receiver model of communication. This is important because two people can say exactly the same thing and get entirely different results. In the most basic sense we can break down verbal communication as follows:


  1. What they actually said (words)
  2. What they think they said (words + tone + body language)


  1. What they actually heard (words)
  2. What they think they heard (words + tone + body language + prior experiences)

If you want to become a master of persuasion you have to understand the sender-receiver dynamic and be able to adjust accordingly or else you’ll fail more than you need to. Let me lay out a scenario.

You’re in the airport and have a tight connection for your next flight. If you miss it there’s only one other available flight to get you in on time for an important business dinner. The gate agent has just informed everyone your flight is delayed by 30 minutes. You have to make a decision about whether or not to gamble and stay on your assigned flight or try to get on the other flight. You’re stressed as you approach the gate agent and say:

“I have to get to [city] today so what are my options?”

The words are not in dispute but how you said it, taking into account tone and body language, can come across quite different than you might intend. You may have thought you were calm and polite when in reality you came across as angry and demanding. There’s what you “think” you said and what you actually said.

But that’s only half of the equation. What about the gate agent (receiver)? This person has their own filter. He or she might have just started their shift so they’re rested and calm. If that’s the case, and he or she maintains a positive attitude, they will probably “hear” you as someone who is expressing some nerves and in need of help. It’s likely the gate agent will be polite and helpful.

But what if the gate agent is at the end of a long shift, has dealt with several other delays and is tired of angry travelers? Under those circumstances they might be at the end of their wits. Through their filter you’re just another angry, demanding traveler who verbally abuses gate agents even though they have no control over what happens with planes.

As you can see, there are lots of ways this can play out depending on what you think you said and what the other person thinks they heard. The only thing you can control is yourself so taking a moment to make sure you’re calm, collected, positive, and clear about your needs is your best bet.

What about the gate agent? You don’t know what their filter is but a little empathy goes a long way if you hope they “hear” something different from you. Acknowledging they have a tough job might make all the difference. It could be as simple saying, “I bet it’s been a rough day with another delay to deal with,” before sharing your needs.

Never forget, beyond the words and principles of influence you use there’s more going on than meets the eye. Taking a moment to consider how you’ll come across and how the other person might receive you is always a good investment of your time.