By Jon Utley
The author Dale Carnegie once wrote that, “A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” Recent science has supported this claim–it turns out that hearing your name said out loud releases dopamine and serotonin (also known as the happiness chemicals) into your brain. I am not sure exactly how or why this happens, but it may have to do with early brain development and our earliest experiences hearing our name spoken by our parents. While our name was being used so often, our every need was attended to. We heard it spoken while receiving affection, food, or a much- needed change of fresh clothes. As we grew older, more and more people learned and used our names.
Let’s face it: humans want attention. Some may want it more than others, but everybody appreciates feeling seen and recognized. And when we feel that way, we pay closer attention to the person talking to us. Maybe this is the reason parents are inclined to use their child’s full name when they’re in trouble!
I am not sure if others feel this way, but when I speak to a customer service center representative on the phone and they use the word “sir” or “ma’am,” it can come across as a little impersonal and sometimes curt. Most of the time this person has my name on their computer screen. What sounds better to you? “Thank you for calling, sir. I can help with that.” Or, “Thanks for calling, Mr. Johnson. I can help you with that.” Notice how in this situation our first name was not used, as first names are better suited for more personal environments. It might be odd that a stranger uses your first name without you offering it to them. When I order from Starbucks, I give my first name and when the employee says, “Have a great day, Jon,” I appreciate that. Now did the Starbucks encounter release serotonin and dopamine? Probably a little. But more importantly, my subconscious realizes that this person is paying attention to my order and has also been trained in the wonderful magic of using a person’s name.
There are many ways to use people’s names in everyday conversations. Saying “Hi, Jack, how are you doing?” instead of simply “Hi, how are you?” can make a person feel more deeply recognized. Using a person’s name to respond to something they said is also a great strategy. “Thanks, Jack,” “That’s a great idea, Jack,” or “I appreciate your input, Jack” are all good examples. Again, by using Jack’s name, he felt needed and listened to. It provided him with a small burst of dopamine and serotonin, and it also signaled to him that you care about his ideas.
Of course, the first step in using people’s names is learning them in the first place. If you struggle to remember names, here are a few tips.
Say Names Out Loud
As soon as you’re introduced to somebody, say their name out loud back to them. That will help them feel noticed and help to cement the information in your brain.
Try a Mnemonic Device
You might also try forming a mnemonic device, or memory aid, to help you. For example, if you meet somebody named Terry, you could think to yourself “Terry rides the ferry” and picture your new acquaintance doing just that. These devices may seem silly, but they can be effective.
Do Your Best
Finally, stop telling yourself (and others) that you’re bad at remembering names. Saying this might actually set your brain up for failure–and indicate to the other person that they’re not worth the extra effort to make their name stick. Instead, just do your best. If you do forget someone’s name, just admit it and ask again. They’ll appreciate that you’re making an effort.
I wish I knew your name, so I could use it here: _________, in your interactions with others, try to use names of your coworkers, family members, friends, and even those Starbucks employees with name tags. You might well be uttering their favorite sound.