Professional development

Say My Name, Say My Name: Building Better Relationships at Work

By Afrika Nieves-Bentley on April 29, 2024

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A woman in a grey shirt holds up a large blue conversation bubble made of cardboard above her head.

You actin’ kinda shady.

When I was studying PR and strategic communications at Durham College, my professors always said that the most important part of this industry is building relationships. I thought I was good at that because I was generally polite, pleasant, appropriate, etc. Then, I had an embarrassing moment at work.

A representative for one of our suppliers came in. I introduced myself and said how nice it was to meet him. He said something along these lines:

“Hi, it’s Afrika. Yeah, remember, we met in Scarborough and again in Whitby when I worked for Company A? Yeah, I work for Company B now, but it’s still me.”

Yikes! I had, indeed, met this person several times and then introduced myself to him again and he called me out on it.

We laughed it off, but it got me thinking. I was so used to seeing the distinctive orange logo of Company A that without it on his shirt, my brain didn’t register that this person who works for Company B was one and the same. I realized that I look foolish if I only associate people with something like a work uniform; I have to do a better job of paying attention to the people I meet.

Why the sudden change?

Of course, I’m never deliberately rude, but the fact is, if you want to build relationships with people truly, you have to put in a bit of effort. Trying to laugh off embarrassing moments will not cut it every time.

I looked up tips to remember people’s names, and some of the advice out there is pretty good. Here are my two favourite takeaways:

  • Connect the new name or face with a visual image. CNBC says if one part of a person’s name sounds like another word, that can trigger your memory. This is what I should have done when I first met the representative from Company A. By committing a face, not an outfit, to memory, I would have realized that the Company B employee was the same person. For some readers, this will seem like a no-brainer. In that case, just consider yourself lucky! You’re not likely to embarrass yourself the way I did.
  • The Guardian says remembering someone starts before you even meet them. Yes, that’s right! If you go into new interactions with the attitude that you believe that you will remember, you’re actually more likely to. People like me tend to say, “Oh, I’m really bad with names.” Or in my particular case, “I’m so lucky, I have such a distinctive name that everyone remembers mine!” This is the wrong attitude! If you’re like me, we need to make a better effort to say to ourselves, “I have made the conscious choice to build relationships by improving my memory of people’s names.” 

So prove yourself to me…

The same Guardian article says, “Telling someone you won’t remember their name suggests to them that you don’t think they are significant.” That’s not what I want people to think when I meet them! I want them to know that I value them.

In conclusion, nobody likes to eat humble pie. We should always be putting our best face forward in the workplace, but mistakes do happen. The problem is when we have a pattern of making the same mistakes and don’t try to improve. Now that I realize where I’ve been going wrong, I’m going to take what my profs said to heart. This industry, like so many, is about building relationships. I’m going to do that by remembering more names and paying better attention when I meet new people.  

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