By Lavern Nissley
How do you respond when someone you’ve just met remembers your name and uses it multiple times in your first exchange? How is your impression of that person different from one who refers to you in more generic terms like friend, sister or bud? Is the effort and concentration required to learn people's names worth it?
People do seem to appreciate it when others learn their names. And when they make extra efforts to remember their names.
“When you can remember someone's name, it shows them that they are important to you.” This comes from Chester Santos, “The International Man of Memory”.
“But I’m just not good with names. My memory is awful.” This is a pretty common belief, and it may be something you've just kind of accepted as fact.
Jim Kwik, a brain and memory training coach says, “There is no such thing as a good or bad memory, there is just a trained memory and an untrained memory, meaning memory is not something that you have, it's something that you do. It's not a noun, it's a process.”
The past 3 years, as Ronda and I have been invited to facilitate relationship skills training in Heredia, Costa Rica, we’ve made it a goal to learn the names of all students by the third day.
Now, as we feel like we’re forgetting more and more things in general, that’s a scary goal! “Can we still do this? What if we make mistakes?”
We’ve always requested pictures of the students in our trainings, so as to get us started connecting names and faces. So on Wednesday, December 4, we stood before a class of 36 students at 9:40 am. Can we do this?
When we told them that we were going to alternate back and forth between the two us and speak their names and the phrase “and your life matters” as a sort of blessing, they became quite attentive.
I led off with, “Your name is Felicia, and your life matters.” Then Ronda, “Your name is Adrian, and your life matters.” On and on through Victoria, Micah, Grace, Josue, Andres, Roberto—until all names (and several nicknames) had been spoken over them.
In our last session with them two days later, many commented to us how much our learning and speaking their names had meant to them.
Of course, spending a week with them, including meals and other group activities, we got to learn more than their names. We also got acquainted with their life histories, plans and vision for their futures.
From our vantage point (in spite of our ages), we believe it is super important and meaningful to invest in learning names. If people are important to you, we encourage mastering this much-overlooked skill that builds connection.
Now, where did I put my car keys?
Lavern & Ronda Nissley are co-directors of Encompass. Married since 1978, both enjoy coffee, riding their tandem bicycle and working together to build strong relationships.