Pigeon holing people is one of the most limiting behaviours and can result in not maximising or even losing talent. As human beings we are programmed to ‘pigeon hole’ people from an early age. We gather information about an individual based on first impressions, we add to it if we have the opportunity to talk to them in detail and we may even research them via the Internet to find out more. Our view solidifies and we become immoveable in how we see them. Once pigeon holed, it’s very difficult for a person to get out. We will invariably react to them initially using emotion and then justify with fact as we get to know them.

Generational labelling is a key example of macro pigeon holing. We talk about the characteristics of the different generations: Gen X are autonomous, self-reliant who had a ‘latch-key’ upbringing. Gen Y are tech savvy, confident people who seek a definite work/life balance. Baby-Boomers are positive, flexible and goal orientated. It seems a very dangerous game to label people in such a way, unless we are an anthropologist. I have met many Gen Yers who possess many of the qualities of the archetypal Baby Boomer or Gen Xers who behave just like one would expect a Gen Yer to behave. More and more these generational differences are merging. Another extreme form of macro pigeon holing is in the form of gender differentiation – again a very dangerous, limiting and flawed response.

Forms of micro pigeon holing are constantly around us in the workplace. We have a view of someone, an opinion and it is cast in stone, never to be changed. If this is the case why do we ever bother with investing in people and helping them to develop and change their behaviour to achieve a different outcome. The ‘Pause’ button is what sets us apart from the animal kingdom – the ability to take time to think and assess how we will respond to a stimulus; we have the ability to choose the behaviour we wish to use. Our behaviour is what people will see and what they will judge us on.

We may spend a long time creating our own personal brand – but when we create a strong personal brand we are on our way to being pigeon holed. After all isn’t that what branding is all about? Isn’t it just pigeon holing on a large scale?

We need to be careful using labels, we need to be open-minded and be responsive to individuals changing skill sets and motivations. We should treat people as highly unique individuals no matter how old they are, their job role or their gender. As learning and development professionals we should be attuned to help maximise our talent and to give opportunities for growth and development to forge a motivated and energised work force. Let’s leave the holes to the pigeons and allow our people to fly…….