We’re all fascinated by personality types. We’ve all done online tests that promise to tell us what we are like. What we miss in this game is that these types and the features that make them up as described in these tests are nothing more but labels and labels are summations, abstract concepts that mean different things to different people.
You may connect well with others, or be confident, motivated, and so on. If you look these up in the dictionary you’ll see that the definitions include many other descriptive words. When you take those descriptive words and look them up, and do that again and again, until the dictionary translation is one that describes an action, then you have identified a behavior that makes the basis for a label.
If you want to know what you are really like and work to become better in any respect, that’s what you need to do — get down to the foundations of the label, to the behaviors that it’s composed of.
Take Motivation. It means a reason or several reasons one has for acting in a particular way. Does this really tell us what motivation looks like, sounds like or feels like when you observe it? No, it doesn’t. Could you recognise it in a workplace or at sports, leadership or whatever task you apply it to? Again, no. You can recognize a behavior.
We want to get more specific than motivation, because it’s as abstract as personality. Personality is an overarching word that encompasses many specific behaviors that may or may not exist and may or may not be as pronounced as others in a set of related behaviors. We want to get right down to the specifics and try to quantify the extent to which each one of these behaviors exists.
So, let’s take another label. Empathetic — what does that really mean? What are the observed behaviors of an empathetic person? Can these be identified and quantified? When you do this, does this information give you a basis for measuring how much more empathetic one person is than another? And if you have someone who isn’t empathetic but wants to be, then how do they go about changing this? Labels are complex, whereas specific behaviors make it easy to know exactly what we mean, and what action is associated with what is observed.
Let’s take this one step further. If I am a ‘D’ in DiSC, and you’re an ‘I’, say, will my measure of how empathetic an individual is be the same as your measure of the same person? No. You, being empathetic yourself, as an ‘I’, may rank another person’s empathy level lower than I would as a ‘D’. That’s because labels are relative and can be interpreted in different ways by different people, which makes changing them an impossible task.
If I want to appear motivated, then there are specific things I will do because I believe these things demonstrate motivation. I will try to appear to be possessing certain traits, which, when others observe them, will make me look motivated.
For example, I might try to seem enthusiastic, positive, and eager to achieve results. But what do these adjectives mean? My definition of enthusiastic will in all probability differ from yours. Your definition of eagerness will likely be different from mine.
What I perceive as a feature demonstrating motivation is my own descriptor, and if I ask someone else how motivation looks to them, they may or may not agree with it and other descriptors. They will probably have their own set. Why? Because these are all labels and what I need in order to appear motivated is new behaviors that will make me motivated.
The problem is that when we use labels to change ourselves or others, we risk doing the wrong things since labels mean different things to different people. But when we are specific, when we go beyond the label and to the behaviors that we need to change, we eliminate the risk of working on the wrong ones.
The bottom line is: You can’t fix a label without changing the underlying behavior.