A rose by any other name… would be a pissed-off rose. (With apologies to The Bard.)
I do my best, given several familial constraints, to attend networking groups to make face-to-face contacts. Over the holidays I attended one, organized by the Medical Development Group – a medical device and instrument group in the Boston area (medical devices being a target industry for my job search; defense is another). At this event I met a woman whose nametag said “Margery”. So I asked if she preferred Margery or Marge.
“Margery – and thanks for asking.” Aha. And thus was born a convenient excuse to discuss one of my networking pet peeves.
People’s names are about as personal as you can get; few things are closer to the core of a person than their name. But for every name there is a nickname or shortened version of it. People can be called by their nickname preferentially; a former co-worker went by the name “Buddy” and it was only some years after I’d met him did I learn his real name – a name neither he nor anyone around him ever used or even mentioned.
Why are names so important? And why is it important to pay attention to how someone introduces themselves?
The first is respect. If a person introduces themselves as “Michael”, it is impolite to automatically assume the familiar nickname “Mike” is acceptable to them. Make this assumption: how they introduce themselves is how they wish to be addressed. To do otherwise is to show disrespect for them and their name preference.
Second, if they don’t say their name, but just “hello”, assume the full name is the preferred version. If they like a shorter one, or a nickname, they’ll say so.
Third, understand that using a nickname/shortened name also assumes a level of closeness that, meeting someone for the first time, is not warranted. You just met. You are not their buddy, you are not their friend or confidante. You are someone they just met.
Fourth, in today’s global economy, you can run into a name you just don’t know how to pronounce. Instead of mangling it, ask how to say it correctly. If your tongue just can’t get it, apologize, admit you just can’t wrap your mouth around it, and then ask what they’d like you to do. E.g., “I’m sorry, I just can’t get my tongue to cooperate and say your name correctly. I don’t want to insult you by mispronouncing your name, so how should I address you to not offend you?”
Odds are pretty high that you’re not the first person to have this issue, and therefore they probably have a ready answer.
So be courteous. Respect peoples’ names. To do otherwise risks damaging the relationship you hope to built even as you are attempting to open the door.
© 2014, David Hunt, PE