Reality Check: Naming Names

The previous post about head-banging (and how we might avoid it), has encouraged me to look further at communications. If we deliberately choose how we communicate, might that help with everyday problems?
Everyone has difficulties that have to be dealt with. Some are big; others small, but the reality of difficulty will always exist. Achieving a solution often requires cooperation from others. So, how we communicate plays a big role in whether we have successful, effective interactions.
For this column, I’m primarily looking at interacting with people we don’t know, in a situation that we’d rather not be faced with. For example, maybe we have to call customer service, or interact with a health system, a government, a regulator, an education provider, an insurance company, a financial institution, etc. Sooner or later, most of us will need to do those things. Oh, joy!
We know that we can only control ourselves. No matter what we do, we cannot make the world right. And unless we have force or coercive power (which I am not advocating) we can’t make other people do what they so obviously “should do.”
Yet, even with that limitation, we do have influence. How we handle ourselves—essentially, how we communicate—can make a big difference in whether or not we achieve the results we seek.
Both you and I already know that people are generally more responsive if we are polite and courteous; if we smile and say “please” and “thank you.” They generally don’t respond well to anger, frustration, or name-calling. Hostile behaviours tend to produce more hostile behaviours, making an already tense situation spiral downward. When we look back on the interaction, it’s easy to convince ourselves that it is the other person’s fault.
This may be true. In a nasty interaction, there’s generally plenty of blame to go around. The more helpful question is, can we prevent those hostile interactions, or even turn them into productive, useful conversations?
There are tried and true methods that can help. One that we often forget is the value of using people’s names. It’s a principle that I first learned from the Dale Carnegie organization decades ago, and as human nature hasn’t changed much, it still holds true.
So, what do you do? In a conversation, whether it’s by phone or in person, ask, “Could I get your name?” Then write it down. Immediately. Otherwise it will fly out of your head just like that. You might only get a first name; that’s fine.
As the conversation proceeds, use the name. For example, “So Bill, what I understand from you is…” or “Bill, when can you get back to me on this?” or “Thank you Bill, I really appreciate your efforts to handle this for me.”
You may be thinking, “That’s ridiculous. Using their name isn’t going to make any difference.” You may be right. Then again, it requires almost no effort on your part, so if it makes even a tiny positive difference in how the person reacts, isn’t it worth it?.
A further benefit may come when you call again. Use Bill’s name and let him know you’ve talked before, so this becomes a continuation of your “relationship.”
While this won’t fix every interaction, once you make naming names a habit, you may be surprised by the changes in tone and response. Is it worth a try?

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