September 1, 2010

Bulk view

It’s okay if you can’t remember or spell my name; being human

Lifehacker had a recent post with tips on how to remember people’s names – generally useful tips, ground well-covered in networking books. There is one tip I disagree with, though. I realized I don’t often hear disagreement about it, so I thought I’d share. Here’s the tip:

DON’T ever call people by the wrong name

Hearing your name mispronounced can be annoying but forgivable, especially if lots of people find your name hard to pronounce, but hearing someone call you by the wrong name is always infuriating! Out of all facts that someone can possibly misremember about you (e.g., your job, college major, or ethnicity), getting your name wrong is the ultimate insult. It simply leaves a yucky visceral impression that the other person doesn’t give a damn about you.

I disagree with this tip because I think it creates unnecessary fear, anxiety, and expectation. I think there’s a better way to do this.

Let’s look at it from both sides.

If someone has forgotten your name, you could get mad about it… or you could just shrug it off and give the person the benefit of the doubt.  If they consistently get your name wrong, you could bear a grudge, or you could laugh about the possible crossed wires (maybe you really remind them of their great-aunt!). If they sneer while mangling your name so much it sounds like an epithet, something might be up. But in general, people are good people, and they’re not trying to insult you or say that you’re worthless.

When I talk to people, I don’t assume that I’m important to them, or that they should devote precious brainspace to remembering me. If people make an effort and get my name wrong anyway, I’ll still appreciate that. They’re human.

Let’s look at the other side. If you’ve forgotten someone’s name despite your best efforts, go ahead and ‘fess up, or try to see if you can pick it up from the conversation (or from a networking buddy). I prefer the direct confession route over the awkward-standing-around route. It gets the pain over faster, and it makes more of a human connection. I try to make up for any name shortcomings by remembering other little details about people, focusing on creating value, and connecting people with other people.

And if I thought I knew someone’s name but it turns out I was mistaken, well, it happens. I’ll try to remember. Some people’s faces get mixed up in my memory. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, and I hope other people don’t feel permanently offended. (Besides, if they did hold a grudge, that says more about them than about me…)

My only pet peeve when it comes to this, actually, are people who punish you for not knowing their name, those who make you guess or otherwise embarrass you when they detect the faintest whiff of uncertainty from you about who they are. Not cool. People who do that might “score points” in that conversation, but they lose the long-term game. (I remember writing a post about this before this other one, but I can’t find it. Ah well, probably not good to rant too much anyway… =) )

So.

Make it easier for other people to remember your name. (I usually bring my own nametag to events.) Make an effort to remember and use other people’s names, and to remember other details about them. Above all, be human, and let other people be human.