Names are incredibly powerful connection tools across cultures. They establish boundaries, they indicate relationship power structures and levels, they build intimacy, and they serve to bring someone closer to you, even in small ways.
Consider the difference between someone referring to you by an old and familiar nickname as opposed to your surname, or Mr. or Ms. so-and-so. Your relationship to that person is immediately apparent to those around you and it is reinforced between you. And yet, it is easy to fall into a rhythm in relationships both personal and professional where we forget to use people’s names. Whether face to face, over the phone, email, or messaging services, we sometimes simply bypass the initial greeting these days, and throughout the whole conversation never once use a persons proper name or even a nickname.
Using a name is a powerful connection device that serves to remind, reinforce, or build a relationship. Give it a try – for one day, make a point of using people’s names at least once in every interaction. Notice the checkout person’s name at the grocery store and use it in a sentence (‘Thanks, Joe, have a great day’). When you order your lunch, take note of your server or checkout person’s name (‘Laura, I’ll have the chicken salad’). When you get home from work, use your significant other’s name in a sentence (‘Matt, what do you think we should do for dinner?’), and with a co-worker try and use a name at least once in a conversation (‘That’s a great point, Mary, here’s what I think….’). You may be surprised to find that it takes some effort to put a name into what is a routine interaction, and also at the results – people stop and really look at you, they pay attention to what you are saying in a different way, and it often leaves them with a smile because they have been recognized in a special way. Often, you get better service, more attention, and higher response rates from people with whom you have both close and distant relationships.
Names matter, and even though we now have caller-id and other clues to knowing for ourselves who is connecting with us, acknowledging the interaction with a name will create a stronger connection and often better quality results. Try it, and see what happens then.