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Ditch the labels and trust your own style

Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection.

Bizrec1For anyone who knows me well, they know that I’m always quick to jump on board. Even in the expression “When one door closes, another one opens,” I’d rather find a window than wait for that other door to open.

I tend to process information quickly, often going with my gut, and feel comfortable making decisions in short order and moving on to the next thing. Some might consider this a great asset to have -- recognizing opportunity and seizing it -- while others might be quick to categorize me as an overly confident millennial who needs to slow down and pay some more dues before tackling greater responsibilities.

On the other hand, there’s also a style like my friend Kyle Oppenhuizen utilizes, the current president of YPIowa and communications manager at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Kyle is known for listening to different opinions, thoroughly thinking through complex issues and considering all possibilities before reacting. Instead of seeing Kyle as a thoughtful and successful problem-solver with strategic insight, some might try to label him as not having an opinion because he does not pre-emptively react.

They couldn't be more wrong. While Kyle and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum in the way we process information and make decisions, I think his approach is a great way to do things, too.

Why? For starters, because I hate labels. Too many people like to categorize things -- label them -- because it makes their lives easier. If we know what category something belongs to, we know how to handle it. But labels create familiarity. And, like the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt.

It's far too easy to miss out on a great relationship or opportunity when we take the easy way out by slapping a label on a person, place, situation or thing.

Someone with my personality might get high marks in the leadership column because we're eager to take charge and get things done, while a more introverted person might get overlooked.

In fact, according to a USA Today poll, 65 percent of executives indicated introversion was a barrier to rising through the corporate ranks. But there's plenty of research that shows people who come off as shy are often great leaders because they're some of the best listeners. That makes them good consensus builders. I think they have an advantage, too, because when they do talk, people are likely to listen.Oppenhuizen, Kyle - Maharry Photography, 2015

While my eagerness and confidence works for me, Kyle's careful approach works well for him -- and could work well for you, too.

In the end, it's all about finding the right style for you. What you think might be your greatest weakness could actually be your greatest strength.

Don't sweat labels like "extrovert" or introvert." Just ditch the labels and embrace your own style.

In other words, be yourself. 


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I wholeheartedly support your position, Cory. Dump the labels. Stop categorizing people. Let's just accept people for who they are and recognize their talents. Great piece you wrote. I appreciate it.

You do a brilliant job here pointing out the reasons to avoid the labeling, AND the limiting that labeling can do.

Because of your modesty, and your friend Kyle's, you've left something out that those around you both have consistently seen; your adaptation.

Yes, Kyle is introverted and thoughtful. His voice is even rather quiet. But that man speaks up when it's time, AND he's embraced the importance of networking and has developed his skills there. That combination of his thoughtfulness and empathy PLUS his adaptation has put him in the running for YP of the year.

And you. The first time I met you, you asked "What else have you been doing today?" That's not an offhanded, check-the-box, be-polite-enough-to-get-this-conversation-started, conversational filler. This question required a thoughtful response from me, and forced you to empathize, listen, respond, and put the focus on OTHERS - that's not always a top skill of an extrovert.

So, dear readers, let the record show that Cory's modesty prevents the whole story from being told - staying true to yourself and being yourself AND doing some adapting to grow your comfort zone results in the success and influence of anyone who dares to try. Cory and Kyle are fantastic cases in point.

" Instead of seeing Kyle as a thoughtful and successful problem-solver with strategic insight, some might try to label him as not having an opinion because he does not pre-emptively react."

This is very accurate for those like Kyle and I who listens and process information in a deliberate manner so that we can have the best available information to solve problems.

The proverbial "hot take" culture of having an immediate opinion has forced those who are not into preemptive opinions to say something for the sake of saying it.

I am reminded of Susan Cain's book "Quiet" and her examination on how quiet introverts are often labeled as weak leaders and not having an opinion, when they in fact make great leaders and make informed decisions without haste.

My take on the 2 different styles of Cory and Kyle is not to ditch the label, but learn how to put it to good use.
Just like knowing what 'metric' vs. 'standard' means and how to use each tool properly, I should make an effort to understand the motivations and strengths behind each label and not rush to harsh judgement if someone's style does not match my own.
I would rather have the water taps labeled 'hot' and 'cold' so I don't get burned as I'm trying to figure out the flow of those around me.

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