The Danger Of Labels In Employment Disputes

On behalf of Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.

If you’re an employee in an employment dispute or legal dispute, you will be tempted- very tempted- to describe events in terms of adjectives or conclusions, i.e. labels.

For example, a worker may want to tell a boss or a legal authority “I was treated unfairly” (the operative label being “unfair”), as compared to saying “On June 5th, Supervisor Jones told me to complete work on 1,000 widgets in 1 minute, and I could not physically perform that work in that time frame.”

It is much better to speak in the latter terms, i.e. to speak the language of facts, than it is to speak in label-ese.

Know this: to the ears of the person(s) you want to influence, the language of labels (e.g. “unfair,” “lied,” “disorganized,” “harassed,” etc. etc.) is like the sound of nails scratching across a chalkboard. The horrible sound of labels will muffle out the factual content of what you say.

But if you speak in the language of facts- and describe things strictly in terms of what was said and done, i.e. the terms of who, what, when, where and how- then you give yourself the best chance of having your audience actually consider what you have to say. The audience could thereafter apply whatever adjectives or conclusions come to their own mind.

Please note the audience is in control of their own decisions. And they will resent you if you try to make decisions for them, which in effect is what you’d be doing if you speak in terms of labels.

So, whatever your employment dispute and whoever your audience, if you’re going to speak up, it’s best you give your audience the raw facts, politely stated. Then stand back as the audience considers the facts and makes decisions.