Episode 69: The Labels You Assign Other People

The Less Stressed Lawyer with Olivia Vizachero | But Are You Free? (The Most Important Question You Can Ask Yourself)

What does it mean to assign a label to someone? Labels are just thoughts or judgments that we have about other people and a characteristic that we believe they exhibit. This sounds harmless, but assigning other people labels isn’t always helpful, and in this week’s episode, I’m showing you why.

We’ve spoken on the podcast before about the labels you assign to yourself, but what about the
labels you assign to other people? Even though the framework is similar, I’m giving you some specific
examples of the labels you assign others, what it looks like in practice, and why it’s problematic.

Tune in this week to discover how to create some awareness around the labels you assign to other people. I’m discussing why these thoughts about the people in your life aren’t indisputable facts, and I’m showing you how to workshop these thoughts so you can see the negative results they’re creating in your life.

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What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Examples of labels you might assign other people in your life.
  • Why your thoughts about other people and their characteristics aren’t necessarily true.
  • How assigning labels to others directs your brain to look for evidence that corroborates your thoughts.
  • What you can do to question your thoughts about other people.
  • How to see where the labels you’re assigning others are doing you a disservice.
  • Your options for how to proceed if you discover the labels you’re assigning others aren’t serving you.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You’re listening to The Less Stressed Lawyer podcast, Episode 69. Today, we’re talking all about the labels you assign other people. You ready? Let’s go.

Welcome to The Less Stressed Lawyer, the only podcast that teaches you how to manage your mind so you can live a life with less stress and far more fulfillment. If you’re a lawyer who’s over the overwhelm and tired of trying to hustle your way to happiness, you’re in the right place. Now, here’s your host, lawyer turned life coach Olivia Vizachero.

Hey, my friends, how are you? Things are good. I’m over in my neck of the woods. I just made it to Nashville. I got in yesterday, and I am here to work with my business coach, because even coaches need coaching. I think everyone could benefit from coaching. So, I get coached myself and every six months I go to a different city, and I get to meet with my business coach.

I get to meet with all of my entrepreneur peers, and I just soak up several days of learning in an immersive environment. It’s one of my favorite things. I am a retreat person, that’s why I host my own in-person events. I just absolutely love the experience of being in community with people and being able to immerse myself in the learning and be fully focused.

I just touched down here yesterday. I’m getting acclimated. It’s pretty warm in Nashville. I’m so excited to meet and mingle with everyone, and I also have the pleasure this time of being one of the instructors for the program that I’m a part of. So, I’m a student and an instructor this time, which is so, so fun. I absolutely love teaching people how to make money, and I get to do that as part of this program.

I teach my own clients how to make money, how to build successful law practices, and how to market, and then I get to do that here with coaches and entrepreneurs. So fun. That’s enough about me. I hope wherever you are in the world listening to this, all is well with you.

I’m super excited to talk to you about today’s topic. It’s actually a special request from one of my clients, who is an avid listener of my podcast. She reached out to me and said, “Hey, can you please do an episode on this?” So, I went back through the archives of my podcast, and I did an episode on this before, but it’s slightly different. Let me explain.

Today’s topic is about the labels you assign other people. Episode 14 of this podcast is all about the labels you assign yourself. Even though the concept is the same, the framework is still the same, I want to give you some specific examples of what this looks like in practice and why it’s problematic, specifically when it comes to other people.

This is what I mean by assigning a label to someone. Labels are just thoughts that we have about other people. The thought is a judgment that we have about them, and it’s a characteristic that we believe that they exhibit. So, examples of this would be thoughts like, he’s irresponsible, he’s aggressive, she’s disrespectful, she’s lazy, he’s immature, she’s unprofessional, he’s non-responsive, she’s rude, he’s flaky, he’s narcissistic, she’s unreliable, she’s bitchy, he’s arrogant, or she’s selfish.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, right? These are just examples of the types of labels that you might be assigning to the people in your life. And you have to remember, our thoughts are not true; facts are true. So, in this instance, there would be behavior that someone exhibits, the factual behavior. The actions that they take, that everyone in the world would agree upon if we all listened to what they say, or we watched what they did, it would be in the most factual way possible.

“She said…” blank, you would insert the direct quote. Or “He did this… He said no to attending…” something. Or “She showed up 30 minutes after the start of the event.” Those are facts. Then, you place a judgment on the facts you observe. We label people, we assign them these characteristics, based on our own belief systems and the facts that we encounter.

We end up taking these labels and use them as a lens, where we view people through the label that we assign them. Our brains are so, so powerful, they’re such incredible tools, and they’re so effective that when we assign these labels to people, our brains essentially say, “Roger that, I’m going to go out and find evidence to prove this belief true.” Even though our thoughts aren’t true, our brain accepts the assignment. It’s like, “I’m going to go confirm this for you. I’m going to close the loop.”

So, when you’re thinking that someone is irresponsible, when you assign them that label, your brain says, “Roger that,” and it goes out and finds all the evidence that this person is irresponsible. So, everything that they do, you view all of their actions through that lens of believing that they’re irresponsible. You’re like on hyper alert, looking for evidence and more proof to support your initial belief, that they’re irresponsible.

You’re going to bypass and ignore anything to the contrary. You’re going to miss seeing the ways in which someone might be responsible. And of course, it’s always a subjective opinion on whether someone’s responsible or irresponsible. But you’re going to miss things that you would perceive to be responsible, and you’re going to hyperfocus and look for proof of someone’s irresponsibility.

Same thing when you’re believing that someone’s aggressive. You’re going to look for all the ways that someone’s aggressive. You’re going to miss the ways where they’re mild in nature, and soft or welcoming or thoughtful or caring. You’re going to look for all the ways that they’re aggressive.

If you think that someone’s disrespectful, you’re going to search for all the ways in which they’re disrespectful, and your brain is so good, it will find things to support this. You’ll make the argument subconsciously or unconsciously, to fit your initial assumption about someone.

Same thing with believing that someone’s lazy. You’re going to look for all the ways that they don’t show up the way that you want them to. You’re going to look for the ways that they dropped the ball, when they don’t put in the extra effort, and when they phone it in.

Again, these are all just your opinions about the person and what they’re doing. None of it is actually true, but we believe our thoughts. Especially when you’re not actively engaged in the process of identifying your thoughts, examining them, and questioning them. Which is something that we do when we coach together. You learn that skill set. You learn how to do that.

Now, I want you to take a few minutes, and basically, we’re going to workshop this, during this episode, because I want you to start to create some awareness around the labels that you’re assigning the people in your life. So, maybe you have a boss. What are the labels that you assign to your boss? Maybe you think they’re demanding. Maybe you think they’re toxic. Maybe you think they’re not respectful of your time or your boundaries.

When you think those thoughts, when you assign those labels to them, do you see how you search for and find more evidence to support that initial belief? I also want you to think about how you feel when you think those thoughts about this person, and when you assign these labels to them? It’s going to cause you to feel a negative emotion. Then, get clear. How do you show up when you’re feeling that way? Probably not in a great way, right? So, think about that.

Or if you have someone who reports to you directly, someone that you supervise, what labels do you assign to that person? Do you think that they’re unreliable? Do you think that they’re not responsive enough?

I see that a lot with some of the higher-level partners that I work with. They typically think the associates that work for them aren’t responsive enough. Then, when they think that, every single time they’re interacting with the associate it reinforces their belief that the person’s not responsive enough. So, they’re searching for that evidence, and they find it.

One of the things that I teach my clients to do, is define what “enough” means in the first place. So, we have to go through and figure out what you mean by responsive enough. Does that mean people respond within 24 hours, eight hours an hour, a half an hour? It doesn’t matter what your standard is, everyone gets to have their own standards. You just want to know what yours are.

When you don’t define what “enough” is and you assign someone the label that they’re not responsive enough, even though you haven’t defined it, you’re measuring them against an unclear standard and you’re always going to think that they should have responded faster than they did. Then, you’re going to be really frustrated and annoyed with them.

Then, think about how you show up with your direct report when you’re feeling frustrated and annoyed. It’s not going to be in a way that supports your collaborative relationship with this person. It’s not going to be in a way that supports them to continue to improve and grow and be an integral part of your team.

Same thing if you have an assistant; maybe it’s a paralegal or a legal assistant, a secretary. If you have negative thoughts about them, if you’re assigning negative labels to them, maybe you think that they’re incompetent, or they aren’t attentive enough to detail, that’s a big one that I see with my clients, you will always look for the ways that they’re not competent, or that they miss those details.

Again, you’re going to be frustrated and annoyed. So, if you label a person that you work with this way, you’re going to keep searching for evidence to meet and fill in this belief. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle. You think it and then you find it and you see it in them, and then you think it some more and then you find it, and you see it in them, and you think at some more.

Think about your clients. What labels do you assign to your clients? A lot of my clients think that their clients are difficult and needy. When they think those thoughts about their clients, they are constantly in search of evidence to prove that true. So, every time that the client messages them after business hours, they’re going to reinforce that belief that the person’s difficult or needy.

Every time they have to explain something to a client a second or third time, they’re going to reinforce their belief that the client is difficult and needy. Because they’re bringing everything that the client does through that lens of the client being difficult, of the client being needy, so it just proves it true. Even though, as I’ve said multiple times already in this episode, your thoughts aren’t true. But they feel true, especially when you are on the hunt, subconsciously, for evidence that supports your initial belief.

Think about the labels that you assign to your parents. I coach a lot of my clients on their relationship with their parents. No one teaches us in life how to have relationships with adult parents, or how parents should have relationships with their adult children. I find there to be a lot of tension and conflict in adult-child parent relationships.

So, take a second and think about how you think about your parents. Do you think that they’re intrusive? Do you think that they’re judgmental? Do you think that they’re unsupportive? Do you think that they’re slow? I actually… My mom, hopefully she’s not listening to this. But this is a label I’ve assigned to her with how she drives.

I notice, I hyper focus, on the speed at which she drives and then how she gets in and out of the car. Kevin Hart has a really funny comedic skit about this, about someone preparing to start driving and someone exiting a car.

It’s a silly label that I’ve assigned to my mom, and then every time I drive with her, I reinforce this belief because I’m hyper focusing on how long it takes her to get her purse together, get in and out of the car, get her seatbelt on, put the car in drive, and do all of that stuff.

If I wasn’t assigning this label to her, none of this would be a problem. But it’s because I’m viewing all of her actions through this lens, through this judgment, that I hyperfocus and I upset myself, right?

So, if I were to get rid of this thought, and choose to think something else instead, I wouldn’t be nearly as annoyed when I drive with her. Because I’m not having this negative thought and viewing everything that she does through that lens of negative belief.

How about the thoughts or the labels you assign to your romantic partner. Do you think that they’re selfish? Do you think that they’re unsupportive? Do you think that they are unhelpful? If you are thinking these things about the person that you’re romantically involved with, notice how you constantly search for evidence that they’re selfish. You’re going to look for all the ways that they’re not holding their own in the relationship.

You’re going to look for all of the ways that they put their needs before you. You’re going to look for all the ways and all the times that they don’t help you versus looking at the times that they do help you.

Now, what’s the problem with assigning these labels? Number one, if you’re assigning a negative label to someone, you’re making yourself feel like shit, okay? I tell my clients all the time, feeling like shit feels like shit. So, you’re causing your own emotional suffering when you do this.

I think a lot of people, the pushback they give me when I invite them to stop assigning labels to the people in their lives, to change the way that they’re thinking about the people in their lives, they’re like, “What am I supposed to do? Just tolerate other people’s behavior and just put up with everything?” It’s not about letting someone else off the hook, it’s about letting yourself off the hook. It’s about not forcing yourself to suffer emotionally when it’s really unnecessary.

So, if you want to feel better, we can’t control what other people do or say. The only thing we can control is how you think about other people. I highly encourage you, and I invite you to entertain the idea of changing the labels that you assign people or just stop assigning labels to them, so you don’t cause yourself emotional suffering that’s completely optional and completely unnecessary.

I also want you to think about, again, how do you show up when you’re feeling these feelings? I want you to get really specific with the emotion that you feel. Remember, it’s a one-word emotion that you feel when you assign these labels to people and when you think these thoughts.

Then, ask yourself, how do I show up in relationship with this person? How do I respond to this person when I’m thinking this thought, when I’m feeling this feeling, if it’s not positive? Then, the label that you’re assigning really doesn’t serve you and you’re doing yourself a disservice by continuing to assign it to someone, because you’re upsetting yourself. You’re not showing up in the way that you want to be showing up.

I want you to be really specific here and get clear when you think that someone is unresponsive or not responsive enough, and you feel that negative feeling, frustrated or annoyed or disrespected. How do you show up when you’re working with them? When you think that your partner is unhelpful, and you feel resentful or disappointed or disrespected or neglected or unsupported? How do you show up?

What do you do? Do you argue with them? Do you withdraw? Do you get passive aggressive? Do you lash out? What do you do? Do you argue more? How does it create more conflict? How does it create more tension? How does it create more of what you don’t want when you’re thinking that your parents are intrusive, and you feel annoyed? What do you do? Do you get combative with them? Do you withdraw? Do you avoid them?

You’re going to start to see how you show up in ways that really don’t create the results that you want, in these different relationships that you have with people. So, what’s the solution here if these thoughts and if these labels don’t serve you?

You’ve got two different options. The first option is that you can just choose to not assign label. You can get rid of the label altogether. One of the ways that you can do this is you can recognize that the way that you’re labeling people assumes that that label is true 100% of the time, right?

It’s not that we’re telling ourselves that they’re sometimes selfish, we’re telling ourselves that they’re selfish 100% of the time. The 100% part is just assumed in the way that we label them. It ends up being really inaccurate because there’s probably plenty of evidence, if you were to look for it intentionally, that you’d be able to find proof to support that someone is selfless. Just like you can find proof to support that they’re selfish.

If you’re thinking that someone’s irresponsible, you can find plenty of proof to support your belief that they’re irresponsible. But if you flip it, you can also find plenty of evidence to support the fact that they’re responsible, or to support the opinion that they’re responsible. So, as an opinion, not a fact.

The truth is, is that people are dynamic, they’re nuanced, and they’re all things. They’re both things, right? We’re a mix. It’s not all or nothing, it’s not black and white, it’s not zero or 100%. So, if you think about that, can you allow yourself to get rid of the label altogether, recognizing that no one is 100% anything? That’s one option, recognizing that your labels are just inaccurate, so can we just get rid of it?

The other option, I call this coaching Mad Libs, that’s just the fun little phrase that I came up with for this, or the way that I think about it in my head. But if you identify the labels that you’re assigning to people… and I like to do this by writing them out. This is one of the times that I do invest the time, and it only takes a few minutes, to just write out what you’re thinking about someone so you can see it in front of you.

When you write it out, I find it so much easier to see it in front of you, written on paper, and to identify all the ways in which that belief is not true. I see it in such a different way when it’s written in front of me, rather than when I do this exercise in my head. So, take the time and write this out.

Pick one person and write out the labels that you’re assigning to them. You’re quickly going to be able to see how the opposite is true, or how something different is true. Again, it’s not actually true, it’s just your opinion. But you’re going to see how you could make an argument in support of a different belief, versus the belief that you’re currently holding.

When you’re doing this, it gives you access to start to try and switch up the way that you’re thinking about this person. What I do, after I’ve written down the labels that I’m assigning to someone, I play the Mad Libs version of this. So, I circle the word. You’re going to circle the term that you’re using to describe the person, you’re going to circle the word that’s the label.

So, “he is arrogant,” arrogant would be the label here that you’re assigning, circle that, and see if you can plug and play different words to change the way that you feel about someone. You’re essentially replacing the label with a label that better serves you.

I recently did this with a client of mine. She was getting ready to do an in-court appearance, she was arguing a motion, and it had been the first time that she was going to be in front of a judge, arguing this type of motion, in a really long time. Because of the pandemic, it had been a while, and she had had a negative experience in front of this judge before. So, she felt particularly anxious about preparing for this motion hearing, going into court in front of this judge.

As we talked about it, I realized that she was assigning certain labels to this judge. One of the labels that she was assigning to this judge was that he was “very aggressive.” So, we circle very aggressive, right? That’s the phrase that we want to swap out. We played with different word choices here, and we ultimately came to, instead of thinking he’s very aggressive, what if you thought he’s very emotional.

It totally changed the way that she felt about the motion hearing and about being in front of this judge. It actually made her giggle, because arguably, you can make the same argument that the person who’s being very aggressive is also being very emotional, right?

There are different ways to think of emotional. I think there’s a feminine connotation often associated with the word “emotional,” with that kind of label. There’s the masculine interpretation of thinking that someone’s very aggressive, but flipping it to something more feminine… This isn’t a knock on feminine attributes, but just the play on words here and replacing “aggressive” with “emotional” made it so much less intimidating for her to appear before the judge.

Rather than being scared or nervous, it’s like almost mildly amused. “Oh, look at this judge not being able to get a handle on their emotions, and not being able to control themselves.” Rather than being something that she needed to be intimidated about, it was something that she almost felt sympathetic about. “Oh, poor judge, not being able to control themselves, and not being able to keep their response controlled or at bay.”

It really empowered her to show up, and prep for that hearing, in a way that felt so much better to her. She ended up killing it. She knocked it out of the park. And part of that is because she chose to assign a different label to this judge in advance of this hearing.

Think about doing the exact same thing with your romantic partner. If you’re thinking that they’re really unhelpful, you’re going to look for all the evidence that supports that belief. But try and swap out a different word, other than “unhelpful.”

For me, one of the ways that I can often get to a different label, get to a different word in the thought Mad Libs, the coaching Mad Libs game, would be to ask myself why I think that they’re that way. Why I think they’re unhelpful. I might be able, in this instance, to get to a thought like, “Oh, well, they don’t know what I need help with.”

So instead of thinking that they’re unhelpful, I might choose to swap that out with “they’re unaware.” They’re unclear on the help that I need or would like. From there, it just puts the onus on me to be better at explaining and asking for the help that I would like. Then, they have more clarity and they’re better informed as to what I’m asking for.

Because no one’s a mind reader. No matter how long you’ve been with someone, they still don’t know what you’re thinking. It’s so much easier if we just tell them and we just ask for what we want, rather than expecting them to read our minds. So, I would just choose to think that they’re unaware or they’re uninformed, and that I can solve that by informing them, just being more clear, and asking for what I want.

Same thing with someone that I might supervise. I might think that they’re incompetent, and that’s not going to make me feel good. I’m going to show up in a pretty negative way when I’m feeling whatever feeling comes from that; frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, discouraged.

Instead of thinking that they’re incompetent, I might think that they’re confused or they’re inexperienced. Then that would make me feel more patient or more curious about how I could approach this situation differently, in order to create a different result.

Okay, so again, try this coaching Mad Libs. Where you identify the sentence, you circle the word that causes the negative emotion, causes you to experience that negative emotion that is your subjective opinion, and see if you can replace it. Try and assign a different label, a more useful, helpful label, to that person.

I promise you, doing this work, identifying the thoughts that you’re thinking about other people, the labels that you’re assigning them, is life changing, and it is simple to do. It has such a massive impact. Just creating awareness around this, alone, will really transform your relationships. How you show up in them, and how you feel about the people in your life on a day-to-day basis.

It is some of the most important work you can do. Okay, from there, just creating that awareness is powerful enough, but you can also choose to stop assigning the label altogether or assign a different one, one that’s more useful, one that’s more helpful, one that’s more positive. Those are your options here. Okay?

So, go out, take some time, and start to identify the labels that you’re assigning to the people in your life. I highly encourage you to knock it off. Stop doing what you’ve been doing, and your relationships will really improve.

Okay, that’s what I’ve got for you this week, my friends. I hope you have a beautiful week. I will talk to you in the next episode.

Thanks for listening to The Less Stressed Lawyer podcast. If you want more info about Olivia Vizachero or the show’s notes and resources from today’s episode, visit www.TheLessStressedLawyer.com.

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