GCG Leadership Development Team
The world is more connected now than ever before, thanks to technology. This connectedness has resulted in amazingly diverse workplaces. From path-breaking innovation to improved skill-building and heightened professional growth, the benefits of a diverse workplace are diverse.
Leading a diverse workforce is a highly rewarding opportunity but can be a challenging one too. Leaders faced with this challenge need to understand the importance of adapting to this diversity. You can make the journey easier by focusing on some basic details, such as getting people’s names right.
But what is in a name?
Well, a name can be symbolic of everything crucial to an individual’s inner existence. From identity to self-respect, a name is much more than it may seem on the surface.
Why Getting People’s Names is So Important?
Names often carry personal stories and memories for people. For some, a name could be an identity of their culture or religion. These are aspects that make an individual who they are. A name is indicative of the roots of an individual.
Forgetting your colleagues’ names often or not getting their name pronunciation right can be indicative of leadership issues with serious consequences in the workplace.
Getting People’s Names Wrong Communicates Serious Implied Messages
You may be conveying the following implied messages by getting people’s names wrong, often:
“You are not Important”
Mispronouncing a name once can be considered a mistake. But doing it often indicates that you are not keen on correcting the mistake.
You are not willing to put effort into learning the correct pronunciation of the name and vocalizing it the way it needs to be.
You are not considering your mispronunciation a serious mistake, which conveys you do not think much of the person associated with it.
“You are Different”
Mispronouncing a name that you are not familiar with quite often can come across as a sign of discrimination. Habitual mispronunciation can come across as a constant attempt to remind the individual of their ethnicity and that they are different from you.
“You are Not Valued Here”
When you continue to mispronounce an individual’s name, even after several attempts from the person to correct you, it creates an intense effect on the person. This action impacts the associated individual at a deeper level.
By continuing this detrimental behavior, you are telling the person they are not valued enough to have their name pronounced correctly.
A careless “Oh! The mispronunciation means nothing” only makes the behavior more demeaning while deepening the underlying insult, disrespect, and discrimination.
How to Take Charge of the Situation?
As a leader, you can take charge of the situation and see it as an opportunity to transform yourself into a better and more well-respected leader.
Here are some positive actions you may want to consider:
Ask for a Little Help
Getting along begins with as simple a step as asking for help. If you have not been getting a colleague’s name pronunciation correct, then ask them to help you get it right.
You could ask, “I’m unfamiliar with your name. I find myself mispronouncing it often. I’m sorry about that. I could do with a little help, though. How do I pronounce your name correctly?”
Follow the person and repeat the name several times. Over time, you are bound to get it right.
You may not get the name correct at the very first attempt. But your colleagues, especially the offended colleague, are witnessing your efforts to get the name right. Your behavior shows your respect for them, which is more likely to warm them up to you.
Your subsequent mispronunciations may not offend them as they used to because they now know you are making sincere attempts to correct the mistake.
View your Actions as a Responsibility, not as a Burden
Make your efforts to get your colleagues’ names right from the position of responsibility. It is each person’s right to hear their name being pronounced correctly. Realize that you are not doing your colleague a favor by pronouncing their name right.
Do not convey a message that by making the efforts of getting people’s names right, you are bearing a great burden. As a leader, it is your responsibility to make your team feel respected and motivated. Your efforts, therefore, are not a burden but a responsibility.
You empower people when you invest sincere efforts from the position of responsibility. Employees carrying ethnic names will not feel as if they have to bear the stigma of their unfamiliar names. Nor would they be willing to suffer the patronizing or differential attitude of other colleagues.
When you lead the way right, it creates a ripple effect empowering the entire workplace.
Lead the Way
As a leader, you could encourage practices that help others pronounce unfamiliar names correctly.
For example, an easier way to spread correct name pronunciations would be to use the corresponding phonetics in email signatures. People can also include an audio file with the pronunciation of their name in email signatures.
If you find employees hesitating to use their name pronunciations, then lead the way by including an email signature with the phonetic spelling or audio file of your own name. When you show by example, others are more likely to follow the positive action.
Leadership is not only about getting the larger things right. It is also about setting seemingly tinier aspects right. A name may just be a name for some, but for some, it is their personal story, journey and identity.
When you make an effort to get people’s names right, you are demonstrating that these people are important and that you want to connect with them better. There is no better leadership than that which puts people and their priorities first.
Such people-focused leadership enables you to create a more inclusive, respectful, successful, and happier workplace.
Leadership is a personal journey. You can make the journey a beautiful path of discoveries than that of a bitter struggle with leadership coaching.
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