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Using Their Name


Techniques > Conversation Techniques > Their Name > Using Their Name

Acknowledging identity | Grabbing attention | Formal and informal | Beware of overdoing it | See also


Using a person's name in a conversation is a key trick that most sales people know well.

Acknowledging identity

Using the person's name acknowledges their identity, massaging their Ego and hence boosting their self-esteem. Just by recognizing that they exist, you have done them a great favor (which of course means they now owe you...).

Use this in particular when you want them to feel good about themselves. You can also link it with a particular item with which you want them to associate themselves, such as the idea of which you are trying to persuade them.

Can you imagine yourself, Jane, wearing this out tonight?

Simon -- you can be saved.

Remember that the person's name is a part of who they are. Using their name is like handling the person, so be careful with it.

Grabbing attention

Have you ever been somewhere when a person used your name, perhaps in conversation with someone else across the other side of the room? A common reaction is to suddenly pay attention. Are they talking about you? Are they trying to get your attention?

When the other person is talking and you want to say something but are having difficulty in breaking into the conversation, saying their name can be an effective way of 'grabbing the talking stick'.

Susan, that's a good point and I'd like to add something important...

When you are talking to a person and they seem distracted or have otherwise disappeared off into their own head somewhere, dropping their name into a sentence will effectively bring them back to a state of attention.

...and when we get to the city, Joe, I think you should be ready to start...

An interesting additional phenomenon is that you will sometimes also be able to remember a few things that were said just before your name was mentioned. This is useful to remember when you say a person's name.

Formal and informal

Many people have formal and informal forms of their name. Thus 'Michael' may well be called 'Mike' or 'Mick'. The use of the different forms of the name will have a very internal effect on them, depending on the associations they have.

Formal usage

Very typically, parents and (even more often) teachers use the formal format of a name. People thus will have an association of obedience with the formal style. The implication of this, of course, is that if you want to be obeyed, try using the formal style.

Formality may also dictate use of surnames and honorifics. Thus 'Mr. Jones' or 'Your worship' may be appropriate in various circumstances. Know which is which and be careful before becoming informal.

If in doubt, the formal style is also more respectful. This may well allow you to use it without worrying about reaction.

It may well be worth being careful, however, as the person may have a rebellious response against parents, and the use of the formal style may cause an adverse reaction (so watch the response you get carefully).

Informal usage

The informal style is typically more casual and friendly. Be careful with this, as usage may be seen as too presumptuous. One approach is to ask the person what they prefer to be called, thus gaining permission to use a familiar form (they are unlikely to ask for a formal style unless they really do not like the informal style).

If you can be seen as friendly, then they may frame you as a friend, which then gives you leeway to ask for favors without having done something for them first.

Beware of overdoing it

Be careful when using their name. If you use it too much, then you may well appear to be attempting to manipulate them, which is likely to have the reverse effect to that desired.

Now, Steve, I want you to think about how you, Steve, could benefit from this. Steve, do you think it would work? If anyone could succeed, Steve, it will be you.

Watch them carefully when you use their name: Does it relax them? Do they smile? Or do they look a little irritated or tense. If it is the latter, lay off the name-calling at least for a while.

See also

Finding Their Name, Remembering Their Name

Using Body Language, Questioning techniques


Howard, D.J. and Kerin. R.A. (2011). The effects of name similarity on message processing and persuasion, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1, 63-71


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