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Pronouncing Names Correctly Builds Rapport and Opens Doors

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Pronouncing Names Correctly Builds Rapport and Opens Doors

Rapport is defined as “a relationship, especially one of trust or mutual affinity.”

Whether you seek to build rapport with a sales prospect or an employee, correctly using the person’s name in conversation can help. The simple act of saying one’s name communicates to the brain a connection or relationship that doesn’t exist with strangers and plants seeds that can grow into a profitable sale or a loyal employee relationship.

But in a community of increasing diversity, pronouncing someone’s name correctly isn’t always easy. And butchering someone’s name does the exact opposite of build rapport. It communicates that we don’t know the person and should be cautious about trusting them. It can easily kill a deal.

If mispronouncing someone’s name isn’t bad enough, laughing about it is even worse. It communicates a lack of respect and signals that protective barriers should go up. It’s a path that can take you nowhere fast.

Learn How to Pronounce Names

Years ago, I was the emcee for a large company banquet. My job was to announce that year’s employee service awards. The list included names of international origins I was unfamiliar with. Wanting the recipients to feel truly honored, I spent time with the folks in human resources learning how to pronounce those names. I wrote them down syllable-by-syllable and practiced them before the event. The effort paid off, without even one nervous laugh from the audience.

I thought nothing more about it until a month later as I rode the elevator with an older man in a service uniform. Wanting to be pleasant, I said “hello” and the man looked back and asked, “Are you the man from the awards banquet?” I nodded yes and he went on to say, “You know, I’ve worked here 17 years and am a loyal employee of this company. Most people call me “Johnny” ’cause they don’t know how to say my real name. In all those years, you are the first ‘boss’ to ever say my name right.” And then he became quiet for a moment. A few seconds later he continued, “When my wife heard you announce my real name, she smiled at me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ I have never felt so good about my job here before. Thank you, sir.”

The elevator soon opened and we waved goodbye, but I’ve often thought about how something so simple could become so important.

Follow the Steps

When the situation arises of a name you are unsure how to pronounce, here are some steps to follow:

1. Stop the conversation and ask the person to help you learn to say their name correctly.
2. Listen carefully as they pronounce their name. Ask them to repeat it slowly, if necessary.
3. Write the name down in syllables, in words or letters that make sense to you.
4. Repeat the name back, asking them if you got it right.
5. Often, one time won’t be enough. Listen carefully and try it again.
6. Once the other person says you said it correctly, thank them for taking the time to teach you.

When we take the time to learn to say someone’s name the way they want it to be said, a relationship of trust and respect emerges. It’s a great investment of a little time and attention that can grow into a lifetime of repeat sales or loyal service.


ActionCOACH, the world’s largest business coaching firm, was established and founded in Brisbane, Australia by Brad Sugars in 1993 when the concept of business coaching was still in its infancy. Since franchising the company in 1997, ActionCOACH has grown to more than 1000 business coaching franchises operating in more than 60 countries. ActionCOACH specializes in coaching small to medium sized businesses as well as executive teams and group coaching. ActionCOACH maintains its growth and strategic alliances by continual development of cutting-edge innovative technology, proven business processes and systems to add value, satisfaction and additional income streams for its franchisees.