When it comes to professional skills, sometimes big things fall through the cracks.
For example, I have a secret identity, and her name is Kelly.
Kelly has gotten business emails, requests for training or advice, lauds from various theatre critics, and introductions from acquaintances. She tends to pop up when I least expect it. In fact, I can go through a very normal day as Kerri and suddenly someone will evoke the name of that other identity- the illusive (and imaginary!) Kelly. (Check out my thoughts on the importance of remembering names, and what to do if you don’t, here.)
Mistakes can be made when it comes to names, and it is doubtful that any of those folks speaking to “Kelly” have any bad intentions. However, a person’s name is an incredibly important, personal, and powerful thing, and we should go the extra mile to get it right. Even though some people may find clarifying a name uncomfortable, it is imperative that we do so. Here are some other ways to give names the respect they deserve:
1) Spelling counts!: There is no excuse for misspelling a name in an email exchange. The name of the email recipient is usually mentioned at least twice somewhere in an email- definitely in the signature, often in the address line. Add a “name spell check” to any written correspondence, just as you would your normal spell check. Before you send an email (or a letter- remember those?), verify that all names are spelled correctly. Making it a step in your process will ensure that you don’t accidentally offend by misspelling.
2) Please, don’t call me Shirley: When introduced to someone new, note whether or not they use a nickname. Not every James is a Jim or Pamela is a Pam, and addressing them with a shortened version of their name may really get under their skin. Conversely, making Tom a Thomas may earn the response “I’m Tom, Thomas is my father”. By the way, it is completely fair to ask the person how they would like to be addressed: “Do you go by Susan? Or is there something else you prefer to be called?” (Voicemail messages can also be a great resource when it comes to nicknames- listen before you leave a message!)
3) Call me, maybe?: People love hearing their name. Using a person’s name can be a great way to include them in a conversation or get their attention. However, be conscious of the fact that OVERUSING a name sounds gimmicky and unnatural. When addressing people by name, be aware that saying their name 3,4,5 times in one conversation is too much. Instead of trying to build a relationship through excessive name repetition, try asking them a question and listening to the answer. Instant connection.