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Are You Labelling or Observing?

Can you tell the difference between labelling others and making an observation?

Labelling or observing

’There’s no reason for you to behave like that!’

’You have such a good life. How can you be dissatisfied?’

’We cannot tell you anything. You are too sensitive!’

Have you ever experienced that a harmless sentence of yours went wrong with another person, even though you didn’t mean it as an insult? Is it a familiar situation for you that your friend felt like you were criticizing them, even though you just wanted to stay objective or just be funny?

We all form opinions about the world, either silently in ourselves or expressing it in words. This is not a problem until you feel the need to articulate your labeling thoughts at all costs. Many people think they are ’just honest’, however what they say is criticizing, rating, and judging others negatively.

 Sometimes it is hard to recognize that we label or judge others. 

We sometimes are convinced that we only express an opinion, although most times this opinion labels or judges the other person.

Of course, we are all different. This difference means we don’t see things the same way, but it’s worth considering that hurting the other person’s feeling might be the price of sticking to our own ’honest’ thought. An important consideration is not to get to the point where rating or negative labeling becomes a habit, as this can drag us into a more and more negative spiral. The danger may also be that these criticisms will force the other person to defend, and this may even result in a deterioration of the relationship.

Labeling (or judgmental, critical) statements can be recognized by their repetitive elements. Examples include:

’You act like this for no reason’
’You are always like that’
’You are outrageous’
’You are whining too much’
’You are too sensitive’

Labelling or observing

Saying these sentences, the speaker does not talk about his or her own feelings, but only underlines the weaknesses or mistakes of the other person. Doing so, he is enforcing his own self-interest, since he believes he has the right to express his opinion, which the other must listen to. Therefore, try not make such statements and stick yourself to the facts.

Here is an example:

Imagine your spouse telling you the following. Which sentence makes you feel better?

First sentence:

Were you lazy again doing the shopping today? You always want to avoid house chores!’

Second sentence:

’It was the third time I did the shopping this week.’

If you feel less offended after the second statement, it is not a coincidence. This sentence is just an observation and contains no negative labeling. Your spouse tells you what they have experienced about shopping. In contrast, after the first sentence, you feel you need to defend yourself, and this can even turn into a counterattack.

Labelling or observingIt is also worth mentioning positive criticisms. These can either be a helpful piece of advice or some thought that helps the other person to move forward. It also may articulate opportunities or questions instead of a negative opinion.

This attitude is much more appropriate, since in this case you don’t suggest your opinion to be the only perfect one, but you show compassion and empathy for the other person. Remember, it may also be challenging to deal with positive criticism. For example, if you feel you won’t be able to meet expectations later. Whether to express this doubt of yours always depends on the specific situation.

What about you? Can you tell the difference between labelling and observation?


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