Some years back, research showed there is unique brain activation when a person hears their own name. Hearing one’s own name causes one’s brain to react as if one was engaging in the behaviors and thought patterns that serve as some of our core identity and personality markers.*
After reading that, I have made a habit (as best I can) to address people by name. This includes times in a retail environment when the salesperson, cashier or others have nametags on (making it easy to address them by name).
Recently, I was in a department store and when it was my turn the cashier said, “Hello.” I said, “Hello Carolyn. How are you doing today?” Her reaction was amazing – she looked up, her posture changed, her face lit up, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Well you just made my day!” I was a bit embarrassed but asked, “Oh, how is that?” And she said, “I work at this register a good part of the day and barely get any recognition from customers, much less someone taking the time to see my name and address me by it. So much of the time I feel invisible.”
I empathized and said how happy I was to meet her. She asked me if I am a mom (as Mother’s Day was the following weekend) and I said no. I asked her if she had children and she said yes, 3 adult children, but that they rarely talk to her because she is an alcoholic and has only been sober for the last 3 years. It was easy to empathize having grown up in a difficult family environment. I told her that sometimes it takes quite a while for kids to make peace with a parent’s struggles and that I would be thinking of her this Mother’s Day.
The next morning I was teaching and made sure to say each person’s name as they walked in. Again, it was wonderful to see how they each brightened up when addressed by name.
In marketing research, we are moving more and more away from personal interactions to relying on computers to do all the collection of data and to understand attitudes and behaviors. Yet I have to wonder what we are losing when we don’t take the time to actually interact with people and recognize them by name.
*Brain Res. 2006 Oct 20; 1116(1): 153–158. Published online 2006 Sep 7. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.07.121