Do You Know My Name?
How I learned that a little kindness goes a long, long way.
It’s a given to say that just about all of us get help from other people every day. And no, I’m not talking about your coworkers. I’m talking about your doorman, the receptionist at the spa, the guy at Saks Fifth Ave who helped you pick out that great vegan leather jacket, the checkout person at your health food store, the food delivery dude, and the woman who runs the food cart where you get your morning coffee… you get the idea.
Given the “New York minute” pace at which we operate in this otherwise ‘hyper-connected’ world, it’s likely that few of us have made regular eye contact with these facilitators, let alone sharing a smile or saying a quick hello and thank you. I mean, who has time for more? We’ve all got places to be, things to do, friends to hang with, dates to go on, etc, etc, etc. Besides, why does it matter that we get to know the people we have little connection to, or are unlikely to interact with once we stop living / working / learning in these locations?
After spending some time looking into this, it turns out it matters quite a bit.
I used to work as a shoe salesman during my high school years at an upscale store on main street in East Hampton. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I was regularly grabbing size 8’s for the Jessica Parker’s of the world and other fancy globetrotters that descended into our little town every summer. The job was pretty fun, I met lots of cool people, and was pretty decent at selling shoes (flattery goes a long way people!). After a while, the job started to wear me down. While I was too young at the time to appreciate why my feelings for the job started to turn sour, looking back it seems pretty clear why I stopped enjoying it. Simply…. I felt invisible.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Most of the clients I worked with were nice and cordial to me. Some were rude and nasty, but they were few and far between. What I realize now was how impersonal the relationship I had with the people I served and how machine-like I felt taking their orders. Similar to someone who works at a checkout counter, or the person who cleans the auditorium at your high school, I never got a chance to truly interact with the people I worked for. No one knew me. Worse, no one seemed to care. I can still remember the only time one of the women I was helping asked me my name and where I lived. It was kinda startling. “Me?” “Uh, well, uh… I’m Mike.” It felt so good to be recognized as a human being and not an order taker. It changed the rest of my day for the better.
A little bit of kindness can go a long way – for both of you.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Jeez, Mike sounds pretty sensitive. What’s the big deal?”, “Besides, what could getting to know the facilitators in my life do for me?” I recently read an interview in the New York Times with Walt Bettinger, CEO of the Wall Street behemoth Charles Schwab. He tells a story of his senior year of college, carrying at 4.0 heading into final exams of his last semester. In one of his finals, the teacher handed out a blank piece of paper. To the amazement of the students, the professor asked them to write down the name of the woman who cleaned the building. Walt stated, “It was a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of the people who do the real work in life.” Pretty powerful stuff.
I’m ashamed to say that while I’ve been pretty good about saying hello to just about facilitator I come across, and sharing a huge smile, I had failed to get to know any of them personally. Recently, I’ve started introducing myself to anyone I can, asking their name and maybe a few other questions that help me get to know them. This could be in a cab on my way to a meeting, or chatting with the nice lady (her name is Daisy) who cleans my office every night after work. I can’t tell you how good it felt to see Daisy light up when I asked what her name was and where she was from. We ended up chatting for only about two minutes, but it left both of us feeling great and more connected to the world around us. It makes my day now when I see Daisy every evening; just to say her name and exhange a pleasantry or two before she heads off to finish her work.
In Dale Carnegie’s timeless book How to Win Friends and Influence People he wrote, “If you want to win friends, make it a point to remember them. If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling of importance.” Powerful words coming from one of the true masters in business.
Remembering the names of all the people you come into regular contact with isn’t easy and might seem a little daunting. Here are some great tips to help remember the names of everyone you meet:
- Make a habit of repeating people’s names when meeting them for the first time. If you will make this a routine, you will be forced to pay attention to their names when they are introduced to you. (Part of the reason most of us forget people’s names is we never really hear it when they tell us. We’re busy thinking about what we want to say, or who else in the room we want to speak to next.)
- After hearing their name, repeat it a few times. (Best not to do that out loud!)
- Try to think of someone else that has the same name.
- If you don’t understand the pronunciation, ask them to repeat it. If you’re still having a hard time, ask how it is spelled and then try again. People with unique names are used to others mispronouncing them and will appreciate those who express an interest in getting it right.
Here is my challenge to you. Start today; be intentional about remembering people’s names. Keep in mind the impact you can have on other people’s happiness by simply saying their name and a quick hello. Trust me, from my experience over the past few months, it’s a great habit to start!