While certainly not the first person to notice that people love to hear their names spoken, Dale Carnegie’s third of six tips for “making people like you” in his 1936 bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, suggests:
“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
We greet people by name when we meet them in person. When we place a phone call, it’s still customary to use the person’s name a few times, as in:
“Hello. May I speak with (insert person’s name here)?”
“Is (person’s name) there?”
“Hi (person)! This is (insert your name here).”
When writing a paper letter or composing a fax, we begin our communication with “Dear Person.” So in my best Jerry Seinfeld sneer, I ask you:
What’s the deal with email?
Do you find it odd when someone you do not even know — or even a close friend or business associate — drops into your brain space with an electronic message that contains no opening salutation? I sure do. I’ve had many a fellow freelance writer message me for the first time and never once use my name in their correspondences.
I had a close friend and business partner for nearly 8 years who probably used my first name in our numerous daily emails five times, and those were somewhat “tense” moments. It always brought to mind childhood experiences of hearing “Laura Ann,” which signaled that my mom was really triggered and about to lose it.
I just finished watching Season 5 of Downton Abbey, and while no one has ever called me “repressed,” “suppressed,” “conservative,” or “conformist,” there is something noble and gracious about the reserved decorum and self-restraint on parade in Casa Crawley.
Calling a person by their first name is a subtle sign of respect. Powerful leaders know this. If you think back to any effective manager you’ve worked with, you’ll probably find they are generous with their verbal graces. A 2006 study published in Brain Research showed what Carnegie knew 70 years earlier:
The patterns of activation when hearing one’s own name relative to hearing the names of others are similar to the patterns reported when individuals make judgments about themselves and their personal qualities.
I recently wrote an article about the importance of a “culture of civility” required to improve the “culture of patient safety” in the U.S. healthcare industry. I researched the systemic bullying and abuse experienced by many medical school students at the hands of their instructors and residents. While not using someone’s name in an email is a far cry from publicly shaming, blaming and bullying her, it all points to a constant erosion of just plain old good manners, empathy, and kindness.
People who study this sort of thing blame technology for the increase in incivility; others point to generational differences in what constitutes rudeness. Perhaps I mistake informality for impoliteness? But my experiences are not primarily with the more casual Millennials, but with people of my own age group.
I’ve never understood how professionals who “should know better” pop into my inbox and jump right into a question or request. It’s jarring to me. What — no opening greeting foreplay?
Laura W. is a freelance writer who likes the sound of her own voice, and her own first name.