Tuesday, August 3, 2010

DC4W: Remember a Person's Name

Technique Tuesday

Continuing our on-going series on Dale Carnegie for Writers (DC4W), the third principle in the Six Ways to Make People Like You, the second section in How to Win Friends and Influence People, is, "Remember that a man's Name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.."

The unpleasant truth of the matter is that people are fundamentally self-centered. Noble aspirations and modern astronomy notwithstanding, we are each walking Ptolemaic systems: we are the centers of our universes. Using a person's name gives you a channel into the heart of their universe.

So what practical benefit does this principle have for writers?

First, learning and using the names of the people (like agents and editors) with whom you want to do business is more than professional courtesy; it signals that you're likely to take at least some of their interests into account. This is why botching a name or using a generic salutation like, "Dear Agent," in a query is generally a major strike against you. (If it's not clear why, then think about how people who can't be bothered to learn your name make you feel.)

Second, even in public situations like signings where most of us have no hope of remembering the names of all the people we meet, using the name of the person with whom you're speaking after you learn it is the conversational equivalent of a smile: it's a verbal token that says, "I recognize you."*

And if none of that moves you, because you enjoy being the center of your own universe, you should still trouble yourself about names because using names correctly will identify you as a member of the group and thus facilitate your aims.

* From the lonely center of our island universes, recognition is one of the things we crave.

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net