Use Non-Stick Labels in the Workplace

Labels is Everything

Like it or not, we all get labeled.

We are the early one in, or the last to leave. We are the most organized, or most messy. We always get our work done on time, or a few days late. Although we don’t want to be labeled or even label someone else, it happens. We are human after all.

The essential element to labeling though is to use the non-stick kind. People change. It can be positive or negative change, but we change. Labels, however, have a way of, well, sticking around. When positive change happens and negative labels stick, this creates unproductive and defeating attitudes about teams and leaders.

As leaders and team members, when we label someone, we have a responsibility to take some action. We cannot just label and run, as we carry a responsibility to follow through.

If we stick a negative label on someone, we then need to:

Coach the Person

When we identify a behavior or action that is inappropriate, annoying, or just not right, we need to have the conversation to highlight what we’re seeing and feeling. We should give advice, suggestions, and ideas on how to act in a different way – a better way. It’s about having that open, honest conversation, listening, exchanging, and learning – mutually.

The essential element to labeling though is to use the non-stick kind. People change. It can be positive or negative change, but we change.

Reinforce Positive Change

As a better habit unfolds, we have a responsibility to reinforce it with positive words of recognition. It is about highlighting the new words, and actions, and letting the actor know how much better the change is. If we want negative labels to remain discarded, we should encourage and recognize the new behaviors and attitudes. Make sure the change sticks.

If we stick a positive label on someone, we then need to:

Check to Ensure the Label Still Applies

There are sanity checks we should do. People can get worn down and slip into bad habits. We cannot always keep our “rose-colored glasses” on when it comes to those around us. We need to listen closely to others and observe all that is happening; to ensure the positive behaviors of the past are still positive in the present.

Ensure the Behavior Is Evident Even When We Are Not Present

We like to think people act a certain way when we are around them just as when we aren’t. However, it doesn’t always happen this way. Depending on the tools available, team surveys and other means become important. It can be as simple as having one-on-one lunches or meetings with various individuals at different times. Again, we must listen and understand what is working and what isn’t. We need to widen our perspective, mindfully and attentively.

When we take two extra steps on the positive labels and negative ones, we begin to use non-stick labels and create a more positive, engaging culture.

We need to be open in our perspective and lead by engaging diversity. In doing both, we will lead forward with greater strength and purpose.


Art by: NoxSatuKeir

Jon Mertz is a vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. He was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business by Trust Across America in 2014 and 2015 and highlighted as a “Leader to Watch” in 2015 by the American Management Association. Jon recently published “Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders.” Jon’s background consists of an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin and working for companies like Deloitte, IBM, and BMC Software. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the leadership gap between two generations.

  • Samantha Hall

    LOVE this post Jon!

    On coaching the person: Can you imagine environments where this was the norm? : )

    ‘….we need to have the conversation to highlight what we’re seeing and feeling…WHEN (emphasis) we identify a behavior or action that is inappropriate, annoying, or just not right..’

    I intentionally flipped that around because it made me go back to the ‘when’ at the beginning. In my experience, for this to be carried out with any measure of success, there needs to be leaders who are equipped to:

    1. Honestly share what they see and feel to the appropriate person
    2. Do so at an expedient time without too much of a lapse between observation and discussion.
    3. Be willing to ask questions that might even get to the heart of a persons behavior.

    Underpinning all of this is doing one’s best to creating a safe environment for honest dialog both ways.

    Love the rest of your ideas as well. Thank you for continuing to publish practical sound wisdom and insights laced with empathy and compassion. One of the things I love most about your posts!


    • Great point, Karin. People can change for the positive and we need to let them, encouraging it and reinforcing it. Thanks! Jon

  • Robert Kay

    Thanks Joh. It’s a great point, particularly on responsibility to take action. If we don’t then we are just gossiping, and that is not befitting of a good manager.

  • Love this John. Thanks. “Reinforce Positive Change” is awesome.

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